The ceasefire ordered last August by Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr expires Saturday, and unless he renews it, his Mahdi Army will again take up arms—raising US fears that gains in staunching sectarian bloodshed across Iraq could jeopardized. Al-Sadr hasn't signaled his intentions, but some say US and Iraqi raids in the south of the country have antagonized Sadrists, increasing calls to end the ceasefire.
At issue are actions targeting what the military calls breakaway factions of the Mahdi army that have allied with Iran. On the other hand, extending the ceasefire would give al-Sadr more time to purge criminal elements in his militia, the Voice of America reports, and prep for fall elections that could give his movement more parliament seats. A spokesman told reporters that if the Shiite cleric did not issue a statement by Saturday to extend the ceasefire, "that means the freeze is over."