Iraq's top Shiite religious leaders have told anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr not to disband his Mehdi Army, an al-Sadr spokesman said Monday amid fresh fighting in the militia's Baghdad strongholds. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded Sunday that the cleric disband his militia, which waged two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004, or see his supporters barred from public office.
In addition, nine Iraqis were killed and 65 were wounded in clashes that lasted into Monday morning in Sadr City, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. U.S. troops and armor backed up Iraqi troops in Sadr City on Sunday as they fought to shut down rocket and mortar fire that targeted U.S. bases and the International Zone, the heavily fortified Baghdad district that houses Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. military blames the attacks on "criminal elements" violating al-Sadr's March 30 order to his followers to halt their attacks on government forces. The attacks have gone up sharply since al-Maliki's government launched its operation in Basra.
What the heck are "criminal elements?"