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Uprisings Against Coalition Forces, 2004

In early April 2004, Muqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army attempted to interfere with security in Baghdad, intimidate Iraqi citizens and place them in danger. The militia attempted to occupy and gain control of police stations and government buildings. During this attack, this illegal militia engaged coalition and international security forces with small arms fire and RPGs. Coalition forces and Iraqi security forces prevented this effort and reestablished security in Baghdad. Coalition troops fought gun battles with members of the militia in the southern cities of Al-Nassiriyah, Amara, and Kut. Clashes between al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army and coalition troops south of Baghdad tested the resolve of the United States' partners in Iraq.

By 07 April 2004, US-led coalition forces were involved in the most widespread fighting in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year before. Troops battled Shiite militias in half a dozen Iraqi towns and cities from near Kirkuk in the north to Basra in the south.

As of 08 April 2004, the Mahdi Army had taken full control of the city of Al-Kut and partial control of Al-Najaf. Residents of Al-Kufah said militiamen had some control of that city as well. In Karbala, Polish and Bulgarian troops fought Al-Mahdi Army militants as hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites were gathering ahead of a religious festival. The Polish Army said commanders were meeting with moderate Shi'ite clerics after radicals demanded the withdrawal of coalition forces.

Hundreds of loyalists to Moqtada al-Sadr attacked British troops on 08 May 2004 in the center of Basra, south of Baghdad. The violence erupted a day after a cleric in Basra told worshippers he would offer cash rewards for the killing or capture of British and American troops. He also said anyone who captured female soldiers could keep them as slaves. The cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar al-Bahadli, said his offer was in response to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. Al-Bahadli is the Basra representative of hard- line Shiite leader Muqtada al- Sadr. The militants assaulted the governor's offices and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the coalition headquarters. The British sent in reinforcements, tanks and armored vehicles to secure the area. Several Iraqi insurgents were killed in the gun battles.

In early June 2004, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that most of the country's powerful militias had agreed to disarm. Their members would either join state-controlled security services, or return to civilian life.

The first week of August 2004 witnessed a cycle of growing violence which culminated with fierce clashes across central and southern Iraq between the Mahdi Army and US, British, and Italian forces. It was the heaviest fighting since al-Sadr's forces agreed to a truce in June, and it was unclear if the truce had completely collapsed or if the violence was merely a flare-up. In the southern city of Al-Nasiriyah, Iraqi fighters attacked Italian patrols with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. At least 20 Iraqis and one US soldier were reported killed on 5 August in Baghdad, Al-Najaf, and Al-Basrah. Militants brought down a US helicopter in Al-Najaf, though the US military recovered the crew unharmed. On 05 August 2004 Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers in Iraq to rise up and fight US troops. The message comes as clashes broke out in at least three cities between his supporters and US and Iraqi security forces. Moqtada al-Sadr's representatives said the truce between his followers and the US military was over. By 06 August the US military estimated it has killed 300 militants in the city of Najaf in two days of fighting. Heavy fighting has also been raging in the streets of Sadr City in Baghdad, where at least 19 people have been killed over the same period. Sadr's spokesmen sent mixed messages, with one saying al-Sadr wanted to reinstate the truce, and another saying he had declared America the enemy and urged his followers to fight on.

On 07 August 2004 the interim Iraqi prime minister signed a limited amnesty law that would pardon insurgents who had committed minor crimes, but have not killed anyone. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said insurgents had 30 days to turn themselves in to Iraqi security forces to qualify for the amnesty. The prime minister offered an olive branch to Moqtada al-Sadr. Allawi gave the cleric a chance to distance himself from the actions of his followers and begin taking part in the political process.

Allawi said "I have been having positive messages from Moqtada al-Sadr. That is why we don't think that the people who are committing the crimes in Najaf and elsewhere are his people. We think they are people using his name. We invite, and I invite from this platform, Moqtada al-Sadr to participate in the elections next year." Previously, Moqtada al-Sadr has rejected invitations to participate in a national conference and national council, and had not indicated any willingness to take part in the elections scheduled for January. Al-Sadr vowed on 09 August to fight what he called the "occupation of Al-Najaf" until the "last drop of blood" is spilled. In late August 2005, however, Muqtada al-Sadr called for a nationwide cease-fire and announced that he would join the political process in the following days. The announcement followed discussions between al-Sadr and the Iraqi government as well as coalition officials.

Fighting between al-Sadr's supporters and US forces continued in Baghdad and Najaf through the beginning of August, though initial reports suggested the battles had lessened in intensity. By August 7th as many as 400 militants had been killed in Najaf alone, the highest single-day death toll among anti-coalition forces since the end of Major Combat Operations in 2003. Two US Marines were also killed in the fighting in Najaf. Tensions in Najaf were diffused on 27 August 2004 when Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was able to broker a deal with Moqtada al-Sadr's forces. Later that month al-Sadr ordered a ceasefire and announced that he was prepared to enter the political process in Iraq.

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