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Fighting Continues in Sadr City, Despite Cease-Fire

Sporadic fighting in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City continues, despite a cease-fire announced Saturday by the Iraqi government and the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Iraqi sources say 11 people were killed and about 20 wounded in clashes overnight, but the U.S. military has confirmed far fewer deaths. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.

A U.S. military spokesman for the Baghdad area, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, says several militants were killed in pre-dawn fighting in and around Sadr City.

He says troops launched a Hellfire missile that killed two militants who were spotted planting explosives in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood. A third militant was killed outside Sadr City.

Colonel Stover says, overall, the situation in Sadr City is more calm than it has been in recent weeks. Hundreds of people have been killed in the Shi'ite militant stronghold since fighting flared there in late March.

"I think Sadr City in comparison with previous days is largely quiet," he said. "I think our soldiers and the Iraqi security forces are doing very well. The wall is about 85 percent complete in establishing a safe neighborhood."

A military statement e-mailed to VOA says a small percentage of Sadr City residents have fled the Baghdad neighborhood, but there has not been a large exodus. It says humanitarian aid and other services are being allowed in, but the flow of weapons has been cut.

Troops have arranged checkpoints all around the city, and the Iraqi government has said security forces will target any person seen carrying a weapon in the neighborhood.

And, in a deal announced Saturday by the government and supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, militants belonging to the Mahdi Army will not engage in further fighting with Iraqi and coalition troops in their Sadr City stronghold.

Colonel Stover says he does not know whether the reduction in clashes is due to the cease-fire agreement between the government and the militants.

"I do not know per se about any truce," he added. "All I can say is that we would welcome anything that basically quiets things down while we can enhance the security and stability with the Iraqi security forces and we can make life better for the Iraqi people."

Elsewhere, schools in the northwestern city of Mosul have told students that final exams will be delayed by several weeks because of a planned military campaign in the city. Local chiefs in Mosul gathered late Monday for a council meeting to say they are concerned about the impending operation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told parliament Monday that troops are preparing for a major operation in all of Ninawa province.