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Across Iraq, battles erupt with Mahdi Army

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fought US, Iraqi forces in Baghdad and Basra on Tuesday.

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ShiIte Supporters: During a recent protest in Baghdad, protesters held signs in support of Iraq and cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army has started a civil disobedience campaign.

Thaier AL-Sudnai/Reuters

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The Mahdi Army's seven-month-long cease-fire appears to have come undone.

Rockets fired from the capital's Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra.

The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.

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