Delicate Cease-Fire Holding in Sadr City

The fragile cease-fire in Sadr City, the large Shiite section of Baghdad, appears to be holding. But people there are cautious because the matter at the root of the violence hasn't been resolved.

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A day-old truce appears to be holding in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. It's a fragile peace because the underlying issue that sparked weeks of violence has not been settled - a Shiite power struggle between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. We'll hear more about that power struggle in a moment. First, NPR's Tom Bowman reports from the Iraqi capital on Sadr City.

TOM BOWMAN: Staff Sergeant Ahmed of the Iraqi army mans a checkpoint on a bridge leading into Sadr City. He watches a steady flow of residents cross the bridge and disappear into the haze. Young and old, they're not in a hurry. It's almost a leisurely Sunday stroll. Trucks full of food and produce lumber alongside this human stream. It appears that Sadr City is finally shaking its six-week-old battle.

Sergeant Ahmed says don't be too sure.

Staff Sergeant AHMED (Iraqi Army): (Through translator) If you listen, you can hear the firefights.

BOWMAN: He gestures off to his left toward a cluster of worn buildings in the distance. Explosions are soon heard. Thick black smoke curls into the sky.

Sergeant AHMED: (Through translator) Many firefights. A few minutes ago we had a company where one of the soldiers got shot by a sniper, and now in that direction there's a firefight.

BOWMAN: Mahdi Army sources tell NPR that Sadr fighters are being told to maintain their positions, wait for orders, don't fight yet.

American tanks rattle past, and a truck carrying a long, thick concrete section for a security wall; then out of nowhere a handcart pushed by a half dozen men, gesturing, wild-eyed. Inside are two young boys, crying and bewildered. Eighteen-year-old Mohammed Abbas(ph) is among those pushing the cart.

Mr. MOHAMMED ABBAS: (Through translator) These children are in terrible condition. They should be in an American vehicle, not a handcart.

BOWMAN: The two boys are carried to a taxi. Two adults hop in. An hour later they're back at the bridge. One boy pulls up his shirt to display a bandage. The handcart heads back inside Sadr City as another Iraqi army soldier, Sergeant Mohammed, says the boys were hit by a mortar.

Sergeant MOHAMMED (Iraqi Army): (Through translator) We don't know where that mortar came from. Maybe it's American, maybe not.

BOWMAN: The Iraqi army doesn't have mortars, he says with a shrug. We have rocket-propelled grenades. And he adds that the ceasefire may take hold. No matter, he says, the area will be safer with all these new concrete walls.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Baghdad.

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