The US military on Friday praised radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's decision to renew his militia's ceasefire and described it as an "important commitment" to Iraqi security.
"Those who continue to honour al-Seyyed Moqtada al-Sadr's pledge will be treated with respect and restraint," said a statement issued by US command in Baghdad, using Sadr's honorific title as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.
"Those who dishonour the Sadr pledge are regrettably tarnishing both the name and the honour of the movement," it added.
Sadr and his black-clad militia of young Shiite men have been among the most bitter opponents of the US presence in Iraq, and until August last year the Mahdi Army clashed regularly with American and Iraqi forces.
Since the ceasefire, however, levels of violence have plunged dramatically in Sadr's strongholds, although there has been fighting between rival Shiite factions.
"This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honour to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens," the statement said.
The ceasefire extension "will also foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation and allow the coalition and Iraqi Security Forces to focus more intensively on Al-Qaeda terrorists.
US and Iraqi security forces will work to protect Iraqis "from these criminals who violate the law and dishonour the commitment made by al-Seyyed Moqtada," the statement promised.
"We also welcome an opportunity to participate in dialogue with the Sadr Trend and all groups who seek to bring about reconciliation in building the new Iraq," it added.