Fragile Cease-Fire Takes Hold in Baghdad Slum

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A tenuous cease-fire is in place in Baghdad's Sadr City on Sunday. The Iraqi government and militia members loyal to the anti-American cleric Muqtadah Al-Sadr temporarily agreed to lay down arms. Fighting has been raging in the Shiite slum for the last six weeks, and more than 1,000 people have been killed.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

In Baghdad's Sadr City this morning, a tenuous cease-fire is in place. Yesterday the Iraqi government and militia members loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, temporarily agreed to lay down arms. Fighting has been raging in the Shiite slum for the last six weeks. More than 1,000 people have died there.

NPR's Tom Bowman is on a cell phone at a checkpoint outside Sadr City. Tom, I know it's hard talking on the cell phone, but can you tell us what you've seen in Sadr City today? What's happening?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, Liane, we just arrived here with our translator. And, you're right; this is at the very best a tenuous cease-fire. We're still hearing explosions off in the distance. I just heard one seconds ago. And gunfire as well. We talked to an Iraqi army sergeant at the checkpoint. He said there is skirmishes going on throughout Sadr City despite the cease-fire that went into effect today.

And we're talking to a number of residents here as well and there's mixed reactions about whether or not this will hold or not. I'm just (unintelligible) now a young boy being carried. He appears to be wounded. We're going to go try to find out what's going on.

HANSEN: Um-hum. So, they're carrying the wounded out.

BOWMAN: (Unintelligible).

HANSEN: Tom, repeat what you said. An American missile strike?

BOWMAN: Well, that's what they're saying. They're said were wounded by an American missile strike.

HANSEN: So, Tom, there is a cease-fire in effect but honestly you can't tell that from where you are at this ceasefire outside Sadr City.

BOWMAN: Well, it appears to be a cease-fire in (unintelligible) at this point. Again, we've heard numerous explosions. Again, cease-fire appearing (unintelligible).

HANSEN: And you are witnessing the evacuation of the sick and wounded from the area, correct?

BOWMAN: Yeah, I just saw the two boys. They brought them back. We saw them maybe an hour ago and they just brought them back. They're patched up; they appear to be okay. I would say one boy's maybe eight and the other could be maybe ten or eleven.

HANSEN: Tom, do you know anything about a report in the New York Times today that says that Iran helped to broker this cease-fire?

BOWMAN: We haven't heard anything about that from our sources yet, but as you know, Iran was supposedly helpful in the ceasefire down in the southern Iraqi city of Basra a number of weeks ago. So, a lot of strong support here for Moqtada al-Sadr. And the people we talk with in the street, they said a lot of them are angry with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki too.

There are posters up showing Maliki half his face and half of the face of Saddam Hussein. We're also seeing posters of young men who have been killed here in Sadr City. So, a lot of resentment we're hearing toward Nouri al-Maliki.

HANSEN: Um-hum. Repeat what it was you were describing, a visual, and you mentioned the word Saddam Hussein. I know I have to apologize to our listeners for the quality.

BOWMAN: It's a poster. They're featuring a poster of - there are two posters actually. One poster shows Nouri al-Maliki wearing an army uniform and under it, it says traitor. And another shows him half of Maliki's face and half of Saddam Hussein's face in another poster. Those are being put up by the Mahdi Army now.

HANSEN: Well, Tom Bowman is at a checkpoint outside Sadr City. And, again, we've been talking to him via cell phone. Tom, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're very welcome. Take care.

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