Sadr Cancels Protest March; Baghdad Under Curfew Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called off his plan for a million-man march Wednesday in Baghdad — out of fear of provoking more violence. The Iraqi capital is still under curfew, even though people are out on the streets. Meantime, U.S. military and Iraqi forces continue to battle Shiite militia loyal to Sadr.
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Sadr Cancels Protest March; Baghdad Under Curfew

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Sadr Cancels Protest March; Baghdad Under Curfew

Sadr Cancels Protest March; Baghdad Under Curfew

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad came after another round of violence.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (US Army; Commander, Multi-National Force - Iraq): As events in the past two weeks have reminded us, and as I have repeatedly cautioned, the progress made since last spring is fragile and reversible.

INSKEEP: That's General David Petraeus, who's been answering questions before Congress. In a moment, we'll have more on his testimony after we put some of our questions to Baghdad. That's where Iraq's army has been fighting militias linked to a Shiite Muslim leader.

Today, that leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, was planning a show of strength - a million-man march. That was the plan. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Baghdad. And, Lourdes, what happened?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, he sent out a statement, calling off what was the be a million-man march in Baghdad. He said it was because he's afraid his supporters would be attacked. The Iraqi security forces were not letting in any Sadr supporters to Baghdad, and the situation was extremely tense. They called a curfew, which is in effect today. People are being allowed on the streets, but we are not seeing vehicles being allowed to move around.

And meanwhile, in the Shiite slum of Sadr City - which has been a scene of fighting for the past several days between the Mahdi Army, that militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, and U.S. and Iraqi forces - it's quiet this morning so far.

INSKEEP: So, does this ceasefire, which is said to have a lot to do with reducing violence in Baghdad, seem to be holding, then?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that's the really big question. Sadr, in that statement that he talked about canceling the march, also said that he was considering ending the ceasefire. And so we're really not sure what Moqtada al-Sadr's position is right now.

On the one hand, he seems to be backing down, saying he's not going to hold this million-man march, saying that he's considering disbanding his Mahdi Army militia. And on the other hand, yesterday, another statement saying he was considering ending the ceasefire. And meanwhile, of course, fighting continues.

INSKEEP: How quiet is it in the Green Zone, which is not far from where you're located?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not very. The morning started with a barrage of either rocket or mortar round fire. We're not sure yet. Plumes of smoke, which have become a very familiar sight, rising from that area. It's very difficult to tell what exactly was hit. But they've been getting very good at targeting areas inside the Green Zone.

On Sunday, the U.S. military took heavy casualties because of rocket fire. Three U.S. soldiers were killed, and 31 were wounded on that day. So a lot of tension inside the Green Zone because of these continuing attacks that are being fired from Sadr City and other Shiite areas inside Baghdad.

INSKEEP: As this fighting continues in Baghdad, I'd like to know, as best you can determine, how conscious are the various actors there that this is the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, that an American general is testifying before Congress, and that every gunshot in Baghdad echoes, perhaps, over here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it's difficult to say. I think Iraqis, in many regards, are very - Iraqis on the street are very much sort of focused on their own lives and the drama of their own lives. And there is a lot of drama here. Just look at Sadr City - I was there on Monday - and people are really suffering there.

There's a humanitarian crisis. People are trapped in their homes. There's American snipers. There's no food. There's no electricity. And so, if you would ask them about testimony, they don't have electricity to work their television set. The political class here, of course, is very focused on what's happening in the United States, and they've been talking to journalists here in Baghdad as much as they can, trying to give their side of the story, if you will.

So I think there's a real disconnect between what you see on the streets on Iraq, where people are really just focused on the things that are happening to them, and then, of course, Iraq's political class, which is very closely looking at what's happening in the United States right now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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