BAGHDAD (AFP) – Loudspeakers at mosques in Baghdad’s Shiite bastion Sadr City blared out a call to arms soon after radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned of a new uprising by his militia, residents said on Sunday.
Iraqi security and medical officials, meanwhile, reported another eight people killed overnight in clashes between militiamen and US and Iraqi forces in the embattled township, where fighting has raged since late March.
“Fight the occupiers — get them out of your homes,” the late-night loudspeaker messages said, according to residents. “They (US) are calling for division. We demand that the siege of Sadr City be lifted.”
The messages also urged the Iraqi army “not to fight your brothers.”
Sadr on Saturday threatened to declare “open war” if the crackdown by Iraqi and US forces against his militiamen does not stop.
“I am giving my last warning and my word to the Iraqi government to take the path of peace and stop violence against its own people, otherwise it will be a government of destruction,” he said in a statement issued by his office in the holy city of Najaf.
“If it does not stop the militias that have infiltrated the government, then we will declare a war until liberation.”
Sadr also lashed out at the Iraqi government’s alliance with the US military.
“The occupation has made us the target of its planes, tanks, air strikes and snipers. Without our support this government would not have been formed. But with its alliance with the occupier it is not independent and sovereign as we would like it to be,” he said.
Iraqi and US forces have been engaged in fierce street battles with Shiite militiamen since March 25 in Sadr City and in the southern city of Basra, where US and British forces have provided air, artillery and logistic support.
The firefights erupted after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered assaults on Shiite militiamen in Basra. The crackdown triggered clashes across Shiite areas of Iraq, including the sprawling district of Sadr City.
Hundreds of people have been killed and scores wounded in the crackdown, which continues in Basra and in Sadr City.
The US military reported five “criminals” transporting or toting weapons killed in two separate air strikes late on Saturday and another two people shot dead after reportedly opening fire on US forces.
It was not immediately clear if the dead were included in the figures given by the Iraqi officials.
Witnesses, meanwhile, reported many people leaving the area in a fresh exodus sparked by the fighting.
“The ball is now in the government’s court,” Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for the Sadr movement, told AFP on Sunday.
“We won’t accept any further procrastination, false promises and political hypocrisy,” Obeidi said. “If the government continues on its course, Sadr alone will decide the next steps.”
The government has not immediately reacted to Sadr’s warnings, but acting Justice Minister Safa al-Safi said all arrests in Basra and in Baghdad are being carried out “in accordance with court orders.”
“Investigations related to those detained in Basra are legal and in accordance with human rights regulations,” the minister said in a statement.
“The security operations in Basra and other cities are an attempt to restore the sovereignty of the state and to impose the law,” he said.
Sadr’s latest salvo came as US and Iraqi forces build a wall through Sadr City in a bid to stop militiamen firing rockets at the heavily fortified Green Zone — seat of the government and the US embassy.
A barrier of varying height is being constructed along the main road separating the southern and northern sides of the impoverished district of some two million people.