Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered on Friday to extend the six-month-old ceasefire of his Mahdi Army militia, and the U.S. military hailed the decision.
"Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered that the activities of the Mahdi Army will be suspended for another six months," Hazim al-Araji, a top aide for Sadr read out the Sadr statement during the ceremony of Friday prayer in Kadhimiyah neighborhood in northern Baghdad.
Sadr's declaration to freeze the Mahdi Army militia was sent earlier by letters to all of Sadr offices in Iraq to be read during the ceremonies of Friday's weekly prayers in Shiite mosques in all over Iraq.
"The declaration of the ceasefire stated that the extension will start from February 26, the same day of the end of the previous period of ceasefire," Shiek Abdul Hadi al-Mahammadawi, head of Sadr office in Karbala, told hundreds of worshippers in the holy City of Karbala, some 110 km south of Baghdad.
The U.S. military praised the Sadr move describing it as an "important commitment" to Iraqi security.
"This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honor to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens," the U.S. military said in a statement.
The military said that the declaration will "foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation," and will let the U.S. and Iraqi forces to focus on fighting al-Qaida in Iraq network.
However, the statement warned that the U.S. and Iraqi security forces will continue fighting "criminals who violate the law and dishonor the commitment made by al-Sayyid Muqtada."