Najaf (AP)--Gunmen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr rejoiced in a newly forged ceasefire with US forces on Thursday by firing their weapons into the air.
"We are very pleased about this turn of events, and we want to express our joy," says militiaman Mustafa al-Kareem before firing a celebratory round in the direction of a fortified US position on the outskirts of the old city. "I'm so happy about it I may even set off a rocket propelled grenade," he adds. "Perhaps in the direction of that tank over there."
The cease-fire comes at the behest of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who left Iraq to receive medical care in London on 6 August and only returned today. It follows nearly three weeks of bloody fighting in the holy city, which has left dozens of soldiers and hundreds of militiamen dead or wounded.
The few fighters loyal to al-Sadr that remain in the city celebrated the latest turn of events Thursday afternoon by discharging hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the direction of US positions. "We want to make sure the Americans know how happy we are about this ceasefire," says Mohammed Kahhmed, a member of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, as he empties a clip from his AK-74 in the general direction of a platoon of US soldiers.
US troops say that they are equally enthused about the ceasefire. "We're really happy about the truce too, but we'd appreciate it if the militiamen could fire their weapons in a different direction," says Maj. Mark Kimball of the First Batallion of the Army's Fifth Cavalry Division, which has taken up positions at the edge of Najaf's old city. Kimball says that no soldiers have yet been injured by the gunfire but there have been several "close calls."
"It's just in everyone's best interest if we can keep the gunfire to a minimum," he adds.
From his position near the sacred Imam Ali Mosque, Kahmed says he whole-heartedly agrees. "We'd really really hate to see any of the American infidels get hurt," he says, shouldering a rocket propelled grenade. "But we'd also hate to damage the mosque, so we're trying to fire in the opposite direction. It's not our fault if the American's happen to be there."
Kimball says that if the celebratory fire cannot be kept to a minimum, the American's may be forced to respond with a parade of M1-Abrams tanks into the city's centre.