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Iraqi Militia Agrees to Hand Over Weapons - 2004-10-09

Members of a militia group in Baghdad's impoverished area of Sadr City have agreed to give up their fight against Iraqi and coalition forces and lay down their weapons. The militants will start handing their weapons over to Iraqi police within 48 hours.

According to senior interim Iraqi government officials, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi militia will begin voluntarily handing over medium and heavy weapons to Iraqi police beginning Monday. The militia will also hand over control of Sadr City streets to Iraqi police.

The Baghdad slum has been the site of recent clashes between militia members and Iraqi and coalition forces. The U.S. military has staged several precision air strikes in an effort to hunt down known insurgents in Sadr City.

A senior official with Iraq's Interior Ministry said if the Mehdi militia disarms, it could help set the stage for similar arrangements in as many as 30 other Iraqi towns where insurgents have seized control, including in the rebellious city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

Mehdi militia mediator Karim al-Bakhati said Saturday there will be a five-day grace period while the weapons are handed over.

According to Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the government did not negotiate with the militia, but instead accepted their initiative to disarm and join the political process in Iraq.

Several months ago the prime minister offered amnesty to any armed militia members who had not committed crimes against Iraqis, in return for disarming and joining the political process in Iraq.

The interim government has promised to pave the way for elections in January by reclaiming areas still under the control of insurgents, as had been the case in Sadr City where two million mostly Shiite Muslims live.

Joint operations involving thousands of Iraqi and coalition forces are currently underway in and near the central Iraqi town of Babil.