Bagdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least one person was killed on Saturday in Zaafaraniya, a neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, after clashes between a pro-Sadrist militia and a militant group that has split away from it.
Security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fighting was between the pro-Sadrist Mahdi Army and a militant group that splintered from it, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq.
However, a spokesman for Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmad Al-Kinani, denied that the “clashes that took place in Zaafaraniya were between Asa’ib and the Mahdi Army.”
Kinani claimed that Zaafaraniya violence was caused by “a group of drunkards who attacked a passerby,” he said, adding that the row was resolved by tribal groups.
Violence between “tribal groups” is often attributed to clashes between the two feuding militias.
For his part, Kinani told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the main motive behind this is to cause further tensions between the two sides given their power and influence in the street.”
He also claimed that such rumors aim to “provoke sectarian strife in Iraq and hold Asa’ib and the Mahdi Army responsible.”
“The relationship between Asa’ib and Sadr Movement is normal now, and there are no problems between us,” he said, adding that figures from both sides “visit each other on social occasions.”
The news about the clashes came two days after the head of the Sadr Movement, Moqtada Al-Sadr, announced his decision to restructure the Mahdi Army in and around Baghdad.
In a statement, Sadr said: “Given the end of the military resistance against the occupier, who made a symbolic retreat, and with the resurfacing corruption and grievances in Iraq being attributed to the Mahdi Army, whether fairly or unfairly, it has become incumbent on me to protect the reputation of this army and avoid problems at this stage in order to spare the Iraqi people the horrors of violence and confrontation.”
Last month, elements affiliated with Asa’ib reportedly attacked Shi’ite fighters loyal to Sadr in retaliation against the death of one of their fighters.
At the time, Sadr urged his followers to avoid confrontations with the splinter group.