The Iraqi prime minister maintains order has been restored in the holy city of Kerbala after clashes among rival Shi’ite factions left 52 people dead. Nuri al-Maliki’s comments come after a visit to the scene, where a curfew has been imposed and military reinforcements have been deployed. The battles appeared to be between two different Shi’ite groups: the Mehdi Army militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the rival Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. The prime minister has called for the sacking of the army major general in charge of security in Kerbala. As well as those killed more than 200 others were injured.
Thousands of pilgrims had gathered for a religious festival and it seems the tight security in place provoked an angry reaction from militants. Moqtada al-Sadr has now ordered the suspension of all activities of the Mehdi Army militia. He said in a statement this would allow the group to “restructure itself to preserve its basic principles”. Sadr set up the militia after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has been behind two uprisings against US forces.