BAGHDAD -- Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr reminded his followers yesterday to observe a truce that has been nearing collapse, pulling back from a showdown with fellow Shiite Muslims in the Iraqi government.
In a statement read in mosques during Friday prayers, al-Sadr said his recent threat of "open war" was aimed only at U.S.-led forces and urged his followers not to fight Iraqi troops. He also urged the Iraqi police and army "to be close to their people and far from the occupier, because we will not be blessed with peace as long as they occupy our land."
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the death of a U.S. soldier Thursday in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad. U.S. officials credit a unilateral cease-fire declared by al-Sadr in August with helping to tamp down violence and are counting on the truce to help secure the gains as most of the additional U.S. forces deployed to Iraq last year pull out by July.
But al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has clashed with U.S. and Iraqi troops since the Shiite-led government launched a crackdown in the southern oil hub of Basra a month ago. Hundreds have been killed in the fighting, which spread to other militia strongholds.
Some of al-Sadr's fighters had been hoping that the cleric would rescind the cease-fire.
U.S. soldiers killed 10 suspected militants overnight in helicopter strikes and ground clashes in northeast Baghdad, where the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City is located, the military said in a statement.
Hospital officials in Sadr City said they received the bodies of at least seven civilians killed in the clashes and treated 45 wounded. The Iraqi Interior Ministry, which oversees police, put the toll at 11 killed and 36 injured.
Two civilians died, and seven were injured in U.S. airstrikes in Husseiniya, another Mahdi Army stronghold, a ministry official said.
The U.S. military says it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and blames the militants for fighting in heavily populated areas. Al-Sadr's statement yesterday included an instruction to "not utilize urban areas in our anti-occupation activities."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has demanded that the Mahdi Army hand over its weapons and threatened to bar al-Sadr's followers from participating in Oct. 1 provincial elections if the cleric does not disband his militia.
Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.