Al-Sadr 'flees Baghdad crackdown'

Iraq to shut borders with Iran and Syria as part of attempt to end the violence.

    The Pentagon has described al-Sadr's Mahdi Army as the biggest threat to Iraqi security [AFP]
    Iraq imposed a raft of draconian  new security rules on its war-torn capital on Wednesday.
     
    Nuri al-Maliki, the  prime minister, confirmed on Wednesday that the crackdown had begun.

    "Today, the Baghdad security plan is in effect," he said during a visit to Karbala,  southeast of Baghdad.
     
    No favouritism
     
    Al-Maliki denied charges that the plan would favour either Sunni or Shia factions, insisting that it would target armed extremists from either camp.
     
    He said: "If they abide by the law the security plan will protect them. There will be no safe haven for outlaws even in holy places, because human life is holier. We will drive out all those trespassing on the dignity of man."
     
    On Tuesday, Lieutenant-General Abboud Gambar, commander of the joint Iraqi forces in Baghdad, appeared on television to warn: "All those who breach the terms of this decree will be judged under the law on terrorism."
     
    The first measure announced was the closure of Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, both of which have been accused of allowing weapons and extremists to enter the country.
     
    A senior Iraqi security official said the frontiers were closed  late on Tuesday.
     
    Indefinitely shut
     
    Three crossing points to Syria and four to Iran will reopen after 72 with reinforced security measures. Others will stay shut indefinitely.
     
    In addition, weapons permits will be suspended for everyone in Baghdad except Iraqi and US-led security forces and registered  private security firms.
     
    The city's nightly curfew will also be lengthened.
     

    The US military announced last week that the
    Baghdad security operation had begun [AFP]

    Gambar will command a combined police and military force and be empowered to crack down on rogue security force units in the capital.
     
    He said the decree authorises him to "impose necessary restrictions in all public places and centres and clubs and organisations and unions and businesses and institutions and offices to protect citizens and  people who work.
     
    "Searches will be done on public streets, and precautionary measures will be applied on packages, mail, messages and communications and telecommunications equipment."
     
    "Security forces will be authorised to block or search public or private property ... (and) will have the right to impose travel  restrictions on individuals or vehicles."
     
    Eviction warning
     
    Furthermore, Gambar said, Iraqis living in housing belonging to displaced persons will be given two weeks to leave or face eviction.
     
    His address suggested that Iraqi authorities plan to exercise wide powers while waging the crackdown.
     
    Gambar said he would report to al-Maliki weekly.

    A criminal court will hold emergency hearings on cases such as murder, theft, rape, kidnapping, damaging public property and the possession and transfer of arms and ammunition, he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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