Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki today ordered government forces to suspend arrests and detainments all over the country against anyone possessing weapons. Begun on March 25, the clashes in Basra between the Mahdi army - the personal militia of the radical imam Moqtada al-Sadr - have also spread to other areas of the country where Shiites are present. It is the third time in less than 15 days, and the second since the beginning of the week, that al-Maliki has ordered a halt to attacks against insurgents. In total, according to information from the interior ministry, the offensive has wounded or killed 900 militiamen, and has led to the arrest of another 300.
The decision from the prime minister is probably aimed at facilitating the surrender of those who wish to respond to the government's ultimatum. This was supposed to expire on March 29, but it has been extended until April 8. For the following day, al-Sadr has called for a protest march on a national level against the presence of the United States in Iraq; participation in the initiative has been extended to all citizens, regardless of religious or ethnic identity. Analysts interpret this as the beginning of political campaigning in view of the administrative elections in October, which the followers of al-Sadr are confident of winning. At the same time, they are warning that a return to calm in Basra, and also the appeals for moderation from religious Shiites - who are calling for the surrender of weapons - do not represent a "success" for the government of Baghdad. Instead, they confirm once again the influence of the Iranian regime in the region. According to Asia Times, the only victory is that of Tehran: in Qom, the head of the Revolutionary Guards has mediated between a delegation of Iraqi politicians and Shiite militias, and it is in Qom that the radical al-Sadr has been hiding for months, under the protection of the mullahs. This interpretation was confirmed today in remarks by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the son of the president of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a Shiite group that is a key ally of the government.