BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraqi troops deployed in large numbers during Friday prayers in the Baghdad district of Sadr City, where Shiite militiamen used to control the streets. There were no reports of violence.
Iraqi soldiers took up positions on top of buildings around the office of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers hold prayers there and use the occasion to criticize the American-backed government. Two military helicopters hovered overhead as Iraqi army Humvees patrolled.
Thousands of worshippers gathered to hear a sermon by Sheik Mohanned al-Mousawi, an al-Sadr ally who complained about arrests of the cleric’s supporters by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. But al-Mousawi urged restraint in keeping with a truce that ended fighting in Sadr City in May after a crackdown by the Iraqi military.
“We call on all brothers to be up to the responsibility and be committed to our leader’s orders,” al-Mousawi said. Al-Sadr has lived in Iran for more than a year, deepening the uncertainty over the future of his militia, the Mahdi Army.