A four-day cease-fire born from an agreement reached between followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and a government approved Shiite delegation on Friday began Sunday. The halt in violence would give residents a refuge from weeks of gun battles, rocket attacks and U.S. airstrikes between the U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Mahdi Army militia.
The battle began in late March in what seemed to be a politically motivated offensive by the Shiite Dawa party and Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to wipe out the opposition Sadrist movement in the south and their stronghold of Sadr City. The Sadrists said they were victims and Maliki looked like an aggressor with an ill-equipped army.
But after weeks of fighting, Basra is showing signs of change for the better and popularity for the Sadr movement and their militia, the Mahdi Army, has waned in their strongholds.
Sheikh Salah al Obaidi, a top aide to Muqtada al Sadr, said he hopes the ceasefire will bring calm to the people of Sadr City. On the southern edge of the vast Shiite slum people were fleeing with little access to clean water and food and no refuge from the violence. There U.S. forces are holed up in abandoned buildings and the Iraqi Security Forces are battling the militia.
Rockets launched by Shiite militants, meant for American targets, were hitting civilian homes, roadside bombs were killing civilians, erratic shooting by the Iraqi Army was killing civilians and U.S. airstrikes meant for militants were in some cases killing civilians. Residents were stuck, terrified and angry at all three groups.
"This will help the situation be relieved and during these four days all the armed groups have to vanish," Obaidi said. "This agreement is a change for the normal relief of Sadr City to stop the suffering of people in general."
It sounds like it gives militants a good amount of time to hide their weapons as well.