For one commander in the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, the trip home to Baghdad after a cease-fire was reached in the holy city of Najaf was just a pit stop.
It was time enough to receive dozens of well-wishers delivering congratulations for resisting the Americans. Time enough to weep with the visitors over the damage inflicted to the sacred Imam Ali shrine.
And time enough for the commander, who gave his name only as Abu Hayder, to prepare to return to Najaf on Sunday morning and figure out how to redistribute weapons that fighters had laid aside.
"It seems the truce is only in Najaf," Abu Hayder said. "Every other area is on fire."
Hundreds of fighters in the Mahdi Army, the force loyal to Sadr, recently returned from fighting in Najaf, where a calm prevailed Saturday after a three-week battle ended between the militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces. But as they arrived in Baghdad, a new round of clashes broke out in the Shiite Sadr City neighborhood between insurgents and U.S. soldiers. Some of the returning fighters said the battle in Najaf had been just another phase of a war that will continue.
"It is essential that the fight continue, and it will continue until the Americans are expelled," said Sheik Raed Kadhimi, a spokesman for Sadr's office in the Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad.
Shiite insurgents fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at the 1st Brigade Combat Team from the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division. The U.S. forces drove through the neighborhood in Humvees, using loudspeakers to order people to stay in their houses because U.S. and allied forces were "cleaning the area of armed men," the Associated Press reported.
Three Iraqis were killed and 25 were wounded in the battles, according to the Health Ministry, while the U.S. forces reported no casualties.
Fighters also fired a round of mortars into a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing two boys who were washing cars in the street, the AP said.
"It's clearly not over. This is an agreement that concerned Najaf and Kufa," a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the sacred city and an adjoining town. "Moqtada Sadr has a decision to make which we'll see in actions, not words, very soon."
On Friday, a peace deal brokered by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, ended the fighting in Najaf. The deal stipulated that weapons be prohibited in Najaf and Kufa, that all foreign forces leave Najaf, and that the Iraqi government compensate civilians whose homes or businesses were damaged in the battles.
A group of Iraqi officials traveled to Najaf in U.S. military helicopters Saturday to meet with Sistani and assess the damage.
"The destruction is huge," said Health Minister Alaadin Alwan, as he toured streets of bullet-pocked buildings strewn with mangled vehicles, spent ammunition and mortar shells. "It needs a great deal of work to rebuild it."
Also Saturday, for the second day, U.S. warplanes bombed the city of Fallujah, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents who have been fighting U.S. forces for more than 18 months. Several homes were destroyed, and residents were rushed to a hospital as fire filled the sky, the AP reported.
A fire also burned at the West Qurna oil fields near the southern port city of Basra after insurgents blew up a pipeline there Friday.
At Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, family members and friends gathered around wounded fighters just back from Najaf. The visitors, many of whom traveled through fighting in Sadr City to reach the hospital, offered the fighters soda, kisses and words of encouragement.
"Shooting is going on in the neighborhood. It's really bad," said Muthana Jumaa, a Sadr City resident who was visiting a friend. "It was dangerous coming here, but I wanted to take the risk of coming to see him. It's dangerous everywhere."
Jumaa and his friend, Muhammed Khowayr, said they had to travel to Najaf, responding to a call issued by Sistani to participate in a peaceful march. They said they were standing outside a mosque in Kufa on Thursday when more than a dozen people were killed in a mortar attack. More than 60 people were injured, including Khowayr, an employee in the telecommunications ministry.
In his home in the Kadhimiya neighborhood, Jafar Ali Muhammed, 27, who had fought in Najaf, said the battle had been long and exhausting, and that some of his comrades had been killed.
Muhammed said that after the peace deal was brokered, he returned to Baghdad for a 24-hour visit with one priority: marriage. He said he was worried that if he waited, the war he expected to resume at any time would interrupt his plans.
He was slow getting to his fiancee's house because he had to ask Sadr's local office for $30 to buy an engagement ring. He had spent his savings of $1,400 on weaponry. By the time he was ready to see her, word came that a U.S. tank had parked across from her home.
Muhammed's mother said that she, too, had joined the fight in Najaf and vowed to continue fighting in the future.
"I left my kids here and went to fight in Najaf," said Itihad Jamil, 47, smiling gently and pushing her black veil from her eyes. "We are going to fight them until we throw them out of Iraq. Our country is our country."