US-Backed Iraqi Gov Fires Thousands of Cops and Soldiers who Refused to Fight Sadr

Interior Minister Jawad Boulani has ordered the dismissal of thousands of police members and officers who allegedly refused orders to take part in the fight against the militiamen of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The decision covers most of the police force in the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and also several cities in the southern Iraq including Basra where most of the recent fighting took place.

The government's crackdown on Mahdi Army, the military arm of the Sadr movement in the country, which started a few days ago, came to a halt yesterday.

Several cities in southern Iraq, among them Baghdad and Basra, were placed under tight curfews as battles between the militiamen and government troops raged.

U.S. occupation troops backed the government in its bid to disarm the militias.

But the Mahdi Army has once again emerged intact as the ceasefire announced yesterday does not call for the militiamen to surrender their weapons.

Thousands of police officers were reported to have refused fighting the militiamen and at least two army regiments joined them with their weapons in Baghdad.

More troops were said to have sided with the militiamen in Basra.

The move to sack police and army personnel sympathizing with Sadr is a risky step as it might derail the already fragile ceasefire.

The exact numbers of those who are covered by the move are not known but analysts say they should involve thousands of police officers and troops.

The analysts say those sacked will have no choice but to join the ranks of the Mahdi Army with their weapons, boosting the militia's strength and standing.

The recent fighting is said to have claimed more than 240 lives in the country since fighting began on Tuesday.

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