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Iraqi leader toexpand militia crackdown

BAGHDAD — Iraq's prime minister pledged Thursday to expand his crackdown on Shiite militias to Baghdad, despite a mixed performance so far against militants in the southern city of Basra.

The U.S. ambassador, meanwhile, said that despite a "boatload" of problems with the Basra operation, he was encouraged the Shiite-led government was finally confronting extremists regardless of their religious affiliation.

Iraqi forces launched a major operation March 25 to rid Basra of Shiite militias and criminal gangs that had effectively ruled the city of 2-million since 2005. But the offensive stalled in the face of fierce resistance from the militiamen and an uprising across the Shiite south spearheaded by the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Fighting eased Sunday when Sadr ordered his fighters to stand down under a deal brokered in Iran.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, insisted that the campaign to reclaim Basra was on track and that he would soon go after "criminal gangs" in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Maliki specified two Baghdad neighborhoods — Sadr City and Shula — where the Mahdi militia holds sway and where U.S. and Iraqi forces have clashed with militants in recent days.

Maliki also said the government would spend $100-million to improve public services in Basra and create 25,000 jobs there — moves aimed at weaning away support for the militias.

Although major fighting eased last weekend, military operations are continuing in the Basra area.

>>fast facts

The latest from Iraq

• The office of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called Thursday for a "million-strong" turnout for an anti-American demonstration next week to mark the fifth anniversary of the capture of Baghdad by U.S. troops.

• The U.S. military said an American jet fired a missile at a house in Basra on Wednesday after Iraqi soldiers came under fire. Two militants were killed, the U.S. said. Iraqi officials said at least three civilians died.

• A new classified intelligence assessment on Iraq says there has been significant progress in security since the last assessment was delivered in August, a senior military official said. The new National Intelligence Estimate is very similar to the one of nine months ago.

Iraqi leader toexpand militia crackdown 04/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:23am]
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