NAJAF, Iraq - Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Thursday warned members of his Mahdi Army militia not to break a six-month ceasefire as his fighters clashed with US and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad.
"Any member of the Mahdi Army who conducts violent acts during the ceasefire will no longer be part of the Mahdi Army," Sadr's spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi said in Najaf, a shrine city in central Iraq.
Leading members of the Sadr movement in parliament have urged the anti-American cleric not to renew the ceasefire he declared last August 29 because, they say, security forces are persecuting their members.
Earlier this month, Obeidi gave notice that Sadr was considering ending the ceasefire because the security services had been infiltrated by "criminals."
Sadr ordered the freeze in attacks, which is due to expire at the end of February, after allegations that his fighters were involved in bloody clashes in Karbala, another shrine city near Najaf.
The suspension of the militia's activities is cited by US commanders as one of the main reasons for a 62 percent reduction in violent attacks across the country since June.
Meanwhile Iraqi security officials and the US military said Mahdi Army militiamen clashed with US and Iraqi soldiers on Thursday in their bastion at Sadr City, a sprawling slum in northeastern Baghdad.
The US military said in a statement the clashes occurred when Iraqi and US forces raided "special group criminal elements" -- a term it uses for what it says are rogue Mahdi Army militiamen -- in Sadr City.
"Sixteen criminals were initially detained. One died later from wounds received during the operation," the statement said.
"As ground forces approached the target house they came under attack by small arms fire. Iraqi and coalition forces returned fire in self-defence, mortally wounding one terrorist," it added.