ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Following a deadly unintentional explosion of a weapons stockpile, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr proposed a disarmament initiative across Iraq to be launched in the Baghdad district where the incident occurred, a longtime stronghold of his.
"Everyone has to obey the orders, not to obstruct this project and to hand over the weapons without any discussion because the blood of Iraqis is more precious than anything else we have," Sadr said in a statement to his followers, released on his official website.
The explosion was reported to have left at least 18 dead and more than 90 wounded Wednesday night when weapons and munitions being transported into vehicles from a mosque in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood somehow ignited.
Iraqi authorities have stated that the weapons cache belonged to Sadr's Saraya al-Salam militia, once known as the Mehdi Army. The statement could be an attempt to reduce any negative fallout from the explosion as post-election negotiations are in full swing.
Sadr’s Sairoon coalition swept the election by winning 54 parliamentary seats and is said to be in talks aimed at forming the next Iraqi government with Haider al-Abadi’s al-Nasr coalition, al-Hikma alliance led by cleric Ammar al-Hakim, Iyad Allawi’s al-Wataniya, and leading parties from the Kurdistan Region.
In the statement, Sadr called on all armed groups to hand over their weapons to the government and said Sadr City would become a "demilitarized zone" once the initiative begins after Eid al-Fitr, which comes next week at the end of Ramadan.
The vast, Shia-majority neighborhood in the northeast end of Baghdad was previously called Saddam City, but has been unofficially renamed after Sadr's father, Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr.
The cleric called on his supporters to exercise restraint after the blast and ordered an investigation into the incident be carried out by his office, which he said would conclude within three days.
Shortly afterward, the Interior Ministry expressed its thanks to the Shi'ite cleric in its own statement.
Sadr also recommended "that arms should be sold to reconstruct the poor areas and that the weapons and the money shall be entrusted to the trustworthy government," and that "the Ministry of Interior should provide the appropriate security environment for this."
The statement also contained a vague warning to those who might take advantage of the disarmament of his followers, insofar as it will actually take place, saying, "I repeat that the Sadrist movement should not be targeted by this project. Otherwise, there will be unpleasant consequences."