Published February 23, 2008
BAGHDAD – Rockets or mortars hit the U.S.-protected Green Zone early Saturday, just a day after powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to extend its cease-fire by another six months.
Nearly 10 blasts could be heard in the sprawling area along the Tigris River that houses the U.S. and British embassies, the Iraqi government headquarters and thousands of American troops. It was not immediately clear whether there were casualties.
Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, confirmed the Green Zone was hit by indirect fire — its term for a rocket or mortar attack — but said there were no injuries or damage.
It was the fourth time this week that U.S. outposts in Baghdad appeared to be the targets of rocket or mortar attacks. At least six people have been killed.
The flurry of attacks followed a substantial lull in such violence as security has increased in the capital over the last half-year.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. military blamed Iranian-backed Shiite militias that have broken away from al-Sadr's block for the rocket attacks. Iran denies that it sponsors extremists in Iraq.
As the U.S. praised al-Sadr for extending his cease-fire, it also pledged to pursue the breakaway militias.
"Those who dishonor the Sadr pledge are regrettably tarnishing both the name and the honor of the movement," it said.
The Al-Sadr cease-fire was extended until the 15th of Shaban, a reference to the Islamic month before Ramadan, which would mean mid-August.
Along with an increase in U.S. troop levels and a move by Sunni fighters to turn against their former Al Qaeda in Iraq allies, the cease-fire has been credited with reducing war deaths among Iraqis by nearly 70 percent in six months, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
Extending it has several advantages for al-Sadr, who launched two major uprisings against coalition forces in 2004.
It enables al-Sadr to present himself as a shrewd political figure interested in reducing violence for all Iraqis and perhaps as a more popular alternative to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the country's largest Shiite party and a U.S. partner. It also makes al-Sadr a player that the U.S. must handle respectfully while he keeps the peace.
Al-Sadr's announcement came two years to the day since the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra that unleashed Mahdi Army fury. Most Iraqis are now loathe to return to the worst days of sectarian violence when the monthly body count sometimes topped 3,000.
Separately, the head of the Iraqi Journalists Union was shot and wounded Saturday. Union chief Shihab al-Timimi was attacked by gunmen as he was being driven to an art gallery in Waziriya, near central Baghdad, police and union officials said. He had just left the nearby union headquarters.
AP Television News footage showed him with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the chest and bandaged shoulders and arms. Al-Timimi, who is in his mid-70s, was elected president of the union in 2004.
A boat carrying 11 Shiites to the holy city of Karbala overturned in the Tigris river and six people drowned, police said. The pilgrims were headed to Karbala for Arbaeen, which marks the 40th day following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, one Shiism's major figures who is buried there.