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Basra returning to normal after Sadr truce

01 April, 2008

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BAGHDAD: Residents buried their dead after quiet returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Monday, but fighting broke out in Baghdad despite a truce called by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to end a week of bloodshed.

Sadr called his Mehdi Army fighters off the streets on Sunday, nearly a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched a crackdown on them, sparking clashes that spread through the mainly Shia south and also the capital.

Political analysts said the government offensive in the oil port of Basra appeared to have backfired by exposing the weakness of Maliki`s army. The crackdown also exposed a deep rift within Iraq`s Shia majority -- between the political parties in Maliki`s government and followers of the populist cleric Sadr.

"What has happened has weakened the government and shown the weakness of the state. Now the capability of the state to control Iraq is open to question," said Izzat al-Shahbander, a Shia politician from the small Iraqi National List party, which quit the government last year.

Life slowly returned to normal in Basra where Sadr`s masked militia fighters were no longer openly brandishing weapons, witnesses said. Shops began to reopen. Authorities said schools would reopen on Tuesday. Residents hosed down the hulks of burnt-out cars and drove with coffins in their trunks carrying the unburied dead. "We have control of the towns around Basra and also inside the city. There are no clashes anywhere in Basra. Now we are dismantling roadside bombs," said Major-General Mohammed Jawan Huweidi, commander of the Iraqi Army`s 14th division. In Sadr City, 109 dead bodies and 634 wounded were brought to just two hospitals, said Ali Bustan, head of the health directorate for eastern Baghdad. At least 461 people were killed in week-long clashes between Shia militants and security forces in Iraq, according to an AFP tally based on reports by security officials.

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