Will he or won't he? Shiite cleric/politician/militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is reported to be ready to extend his Mahdi Army's six month ceasefire - and possibly even begin transforming the militia into a humanitarian organisation.
Significantly, Gen Petraeus is saying he's already been told the extension will go ahead, before there's been any official announcement. Here at Newshoggers, we've pointed recently to signs of deals between the US military and the radical cleric once described by the Pentagon as the single biggest threat to peace in Iraq. Petraeus is now giving Sadr credit for his part in the drop in violence which many in the US want to atribute solely to the Surge:
"For the good of Iraq and to enable us to continue pursuing al Qaeda without watching our back, to enable Iraq to continue momentum in the areas of rebuilding and reconstruction ... all of that argues for a continuation of the ceasefire," he said.There are also reports, however, that a continuation of the ceasefire would mean a split in the organisation as many within Sadr's bloc believe their rivals in the Iraqi government - primarily the Badr Brigade's sponsors SCIRI, will continue to use the iraqi and US militaries to attack Sadr's men. To get a ceasefire extension, Petraeus is going to have to have promised to get both his own troops and Iraqi ones to quit shooting at mainstream Mahdi Army groups too.
"The ceasefire has been ... a factor that has resulted in a reduction of violence in Iraq."
...Petraeus said that if Sadr wanted to see U.S. forces leave, it made sense to renew the ceasefire.
"Frankly, if the overall objective is to get a timetable for the removal of coalition forces or something like along those lines, quit shooting at us because over time we are going to go," Petraeus said.