STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Heavy fighting has returned to Baghdad. Rocket fire is again hitting the Green Zone, along with an military base in the city. Several U.S. soldiers have been killed. The rocket fire is coming from Sadr City, the Shiite enclave mostly controlled by the militia leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
He had declared a ceasefire, which appeared to have ended last week's fighting. We turn now to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro for more. She's in Sadr City.
And Lourdes, what's happening there?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I'm in the eastern part of the city, and coming into Sadr City from this direction is extremely eerie. People have to walk in and out from Sadr City for miles. They have placed checkpoints on the road. And what we're being told by local Iraqi police who are here with the American forces is that they're doing that to make sure that the Mahdi Army fighters cannot be resupplied, and to also stop Mahdi Army fighters from leaving Sadr City and going to other areas and spreading the instability.
Here in Sadr City it is extremely tense. We're seeing U.S. military helicopters flying overhead. There is no one on the street in this part of the city. What we're seeing really at the moment is a sort of stalemate, at least here; of course in the other parts of Sadr City there are direct clashes between American forces, Iraqi army and Mahdi Army fighters, and that's been going on for the past several days.
Yesterday was a very tough day. There was rocket fire coming from Sadr City to a U.S. military base and the to Green Zone that killed three U.S. soldiers, injured 31. And the clashes are continuing.
MONTAGNE: So Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters appear not to have laid down their arms, at least there in Baghdad. But there have also been political moves to isolate those followers of Sadr.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been political moves. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made some very tough statements, saying that any political group that had a militia would not be allowed to participate in the upcoming provincial elections, and that was a direct statement against the Mahdi Army. He said today that he would go after the Mahdi Army militia and that he would not stop until all militias in Iraq were disbanded. So very tough words. The Sadrists' political bloc is feeling extremely isolated. There was this joint statement from Nouri al-Maliki's office. It was also from the president, the two vice presidents, and many of the main political blocs, including, crucially, the Sunnis, who have also come on board on this.
So at the moment, of course, they say they are not happy with this statement that's come out. They do not believe that they should have to disband their militia. So there's things happening on the political front, and of course things happening here on the ground on the military front where these clashes are continuing.
MONTAGNE: So interesting ally for Prime Minister Maliki, the Sunnis.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is interesting. I mean the Sunnis have no love of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They've always said that he has not done enough to incorporate the Sunnis into the political process and into the Iraqi security forces. However, they don't like the Sadrists either. They don't like the Mahdi Army. Let us not forget, the Mahdi Army had a lot to do with the bloodshed and sectarian violence that happened in 2006, 2007.
MONTAGNE: And Lourdes, these developments come just before the U.S. commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, and also the U.S. ambassador, appear before Congress.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's true. And I can tell you, standing here in Sadr City right now, you get a completely different feel than probably what they will be discussing in front of Congress. I mean right here at the moment it feels incredibly tense. There is fighting going on a few miles away, and the surge, while of course it has worked in many respects, the Iraqi security forces are being backed up by U.S. forces, and in many cases, especially here in Sadr City, we're seeing U.S. forces taking the lead. So that of course begs the question, how ready are the Iraqi security forces to take control and when will U.S. forces be able to draw down? And those are going to be the key questions I think that will have to be addressed in the testimony coming up in the next few days.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Sadr City, Baghdad.
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