Is Iraq about to explode in further violence?
In the alleys of the ancient district of al-Salaikh in Baghdad, a Shia family fought a fierce gun battle with Sunni militiamen who tried to stop them reoccupying their house from which they had been forced to flee months earlier.
The Shia family got the worst of the fighting and, after suffering seven dead, sent a desperate message asking for help to the Mehdi Army, the powerful Shia militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that once would have rushed to defend them. On this occasion, however, the local Mehdi Army commander turned them down, saying: “We can do nothing because we are under orders not to break the ceasefire.”
It is this six-month ceasefire, declared on 29 August last year by Mr Sadr, which American commanders say is responsible for cutting much of the violence in Iraq. But the ceasefire will expire in the next few weeks and political and military leaders loyal to Mr Sadr are advising him not to renew it.