Friday, March 28, 2008

Iraq MPs plan emergency session


Iraq's parliament is due to hold an emergency session to try to end fighting between Shia militias and Iraqi security forces.

It comes amid a three-day total curfew in Baghdad, imposed after attacks on the city's Green Zone where the government and embassies are based.

Iraq's army is continuing its offensive in the southern city of Basra.

More than 130 people have been killed and 350 injured there since a clampdown on Shia militias began on Tuesday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has vowed that he will continue the fight against the militias for as long as necessary.

"We have made up our minds to enter this battle and we will continue until the end. No retreat," Mr Maliki said in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state television on Thursday.

The prime minister has personally overseen the operation in Basra, which involves some 30,000 troops and police fighting the Shia Mehdi Army, led by radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Mr Maliki has set a weekend deadline for the surrender of Mehdi Army fighters.

However, the fighters remain in control of some densely-populated areas.

Late on Thursday, Mr Sadr called for a political solution to the crisis.

In a statement relayed by his aide Hazem al-Aaraji, he said he wanted "everyone to pursue political solutions and peaceful protests and a stop to the shedding of Iraqi blood".

US President George W Bush praised Mr Maliki's decision to order the crackdown, saying "normalcy was returning to Iraq".

"As we speak Iraqis are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra, many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran," Mr Bush said in Ohio.

Rising violence

Baghdad's curfew was imposed from Thursday night until 0500 on Sunday to "protect civilians", officials said.

No unauthorised vehicles or pedestrians are allowed onto the streets.

On Friday, most of the capital's main roads were reported to be deserted.

Baghdad's Green Zone has suffered a number of missile attacks. One of several Americans injured has since died.

US embassy staff in Baghdad have been told not to leave reinforced structures, following the attacks.

The state department has instructed embassy personnel to wear helmets and other protective gear if they leave the building, even if they stay within the Green Zone.

Before the curfew, thousands of Sadr supporters marched to demand Mr Maliki quit over the Basra operation and there was sporadic fighting in Shia areas of the capital.

In Basra, a local police chief survived a bomb attack that killed three of his bodyguards.

With many shops and markets shut, residents in the city said they were beginning to run out of food and water.

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