IRAQ: Not quite the surrender Maliki had in mind
It appears that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ultimatum to Shiite Muslim militiamen to surrender to the Iraqi government might not be working precisely as he had intended.
When nobody had turned up by Friday, Maliki gave members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia 10 more days to turn in their weapons and renounce violence.
Instead, about 40 members of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and National Police offered to surrender their AK-47s and other weapons this morning to Sadr's representatives in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.
One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims.
"We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.
Sadr's representatives refused to take the men's weapons, saying they belong to the government. Instead, the representatives offered the men olive branches and copies of the Koran.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, said today that lots of militiamen had also handed over weapons since the deadline was extended but provided no specifics.
More than 150 people have been killed since the crackdown began Tuesday in the violence-plagued southern oil hub of Basra. Fighting quickly spread to other Shiite strongholds in the south and parts of Baghdad, raising fears that a unilateral cease-fire declared by Sadr in August could collapse.
Sadr has urged his followers to abide by the truce. But the cleric does not want them to hand over weapons to the current Iraqi government, said Sheik Haider Jabiri, a member of Sadr's political committee based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
"They should hand over the weapons to a government that will be able to take out the occupier," said Jabiri, a reference to U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
— A Times special correspondent in Sadr City