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Shi'ite Militiamen Stay Off Baghdad Streets, Obeying Cleric's Order


Iraqi militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have withdrawn from the streets of Baghdad, obeying his order to suspend militia activities.

Mahdi Army fighters dressed in black uniforms normally operate checkpoints in Baghdad's Sadr City district, but the militiamen were not seen out in the streets Thursday.

Militia members told news agencies they are obeying an order issued by al-Sadr Wednesday to stop all their activities for six months. The suspension includes armed activities.

The U.S. military and Iraqi officials welcomed al-Sadr's announcement. U.S. commanders have blamed "rogue" divisions of the Mahdi Army for many recent attacks on U.S. forces and Iraqi Sunnis.

In another development, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday his government has made a "great deal" of progress in improving security.

Zebari also says he hopes Iraqi leaders will make more progress on national reconciliation ahead of key reports to the U.S. Congress next month.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will testify before Congress in September about Iraq's political and security situation.

Zebari expressed optimism about a political deal announced Sunday by the country's top five Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders. Those leaders reached consensus on several key issues, including the holding of provincial elections, releasing prisoners, and allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to hold public office.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military reported the deaths of two American soldiers - one in an explosion Wednesday in Diyala province, and the other during combat today in western Baghdad.

The military also says coalition forces killed two al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists and detained 36 others in central and northern Iraq.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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