Iraqi soldiers took up positions on rooftops and military helicopters hovered overhead Friday in a show of strength in a Baghdad district where Shiite militiamen once ruled the streets. There were no reports of violence.
The heavy deployment in Sadr City coincided with Friday prayers held by followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who often use the occasion to criticize the U.S.-backed government.
Thousands of worshippers gathered to hear a sermon by Sheik Mohanned al-Mousawi, an al-Sadr ally who complained about arrests of the cleric's supporters by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. But al-Mousawi urged restraint in keeping with a truce that ended fighting in Sadr City in May after a crackdown by the Iraqi military.
“We call on all brothers to be up to the responsibility and be committed to our leader's orders,” al-Mousawi said.
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Al-Sadr has lived in Iran for more than a year, deepening the uncertainty over the future of his militia, the Mahdi Army.
On Thursday, gunmen killed a midlevel aide to al-Sadr in the New Baghdad district in the capital, said a police official and an official with the cleric's organization.
Sheik Safaa al-Lami was shot in his car about a mile from the district's police station, where he had gone to ask about a detained member of al-Sadr's movement, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
The assailants used a pistol with a silencer, the officials said.