By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 12, 2008 - U.S. military officials in Iraq expressed optimism yesterday that a truce being worked out between the Iraqi government and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia will help reduce violence in Baghdad's Sadr City section. "We welcome an end to violence and putting an end to criminal activity, so we are obviously in support of the government of Iraq as they move forward in a dialog with elements of the Sadr Trend," Navy Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said at a news conference.
But Driscoll emphasized that it's premature to call the agreement a done deal. News reports cited violent flare-ups in the area last night and this morning.
"It is premature to say that there is an agreed-to truce," Driscoll said. "The process of negotiations is ongoing."
Coalition and Iraqi forces are limiting their operations in Sadr City as the negotiations take place, he said. "We are aligning ourselves with the Iraqi security forces and following their lead," he said. "They have decided to take a pause here, if you will, in terms of operations."
Meanwhile, the security situation in the area that coalition and Iraqi forces control "is stable and getting better," said Army Brig. Gen. James M. Milano, deputy commander of 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad.
Driscoll emphasized that, despite any slowdown in activity, operations to protect innocent civilians will continue.
Toward that end, troops are emplacing concrete barriers along so-called "Route Gold" to promote security in Sadr City, Milano told reporters. "We've had a great deal of success over the past two years at emplacing barriers to create safe neighborhoods and safe markets," he said.
The intent of the barriers is to control access, to consolidate the secured area, and "to prevent the reintroduction of criminal elements and weaponry that threaten the citizens of Baghdad," the general explained.