[QODLink]
Middle East
Iraq PM offers money for arms
Al-Maliki struggles to contain conflict with Shia militia after more than 130 people are killed.
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2008 12:26 GMT

A three-day curfew was in place in Baghdad after clashes with police in Shia areas [Reuters]

Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, has extended a deadline to April 8 for Shia fighters to hand over weapons or face "severe penalties".

In a statement on Friday, he said: "All those who have heavy and intermediate weapons are to deliver them to security sites and they will be rewarded financially."
The Iraqi government has been struggling to contain a crisis set off earlier in the week after a military crackdown in the southern city of Basra sparked clashes across the country.
 
More than 130 people have been killed in the fighting and a three-day lockdown has been imposed in the capital.
An official said the prime minister would skip a meeting of Arab leaders in Syria over the weeekend to deal with the spreading violence. Al-Maliki has pledged "no retreat" in the fight against Shia militia forces in the country's south.

Mahdi Army control
 
A police source told Al Jazeera that 80 people had been killed and another 450 injured by fighting between Iraqi forces and fighters from the Mahdi Army of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra alone.
 
He said security forces had taken control of the centre of town but that large parts of the southern oil-hub city remain under Mahdi Army control.
 
Fierce clashes erupted in the southern city of Nasiriyah early on Friday between Iraqi forces and Shia fighters, killing at least four policemen, a local police official said.
 
In depth

Video
Ceasefire under pressure

Pictures
Violence spreading

Focus
Iraq invasion - Five years on

In the southern city of Kut, 45 people were reported dead and 87 wounded from at least three days of fighing.
 
A police source also said 19 soldiers from the Iraqi Army 8th division dad been captured by fighters there. He said the Mahdi Army maintains control of Kut's suburbs, although security forces had made gains inside the city.
 
Explosions were also heard in Baghdad on Friday, despite the curfew imposed a day earlier. An American was killed in the capital's Green Zone on Thursday as salvoes of rockets struck the heavily-fortified area.
 

Al-Maliki has based himself in Basra to personally oversee military operations in the city.

 

Few journalists have been able to travel to the city, but witnesses said Basra's streets were deserted, with shops and businesses shut.

 

Hassan, a resident of Basra, told Al Jazeera: "For two days now, we woke up to sounds of explosion - we have never witnessed such huge
attacks in Basra."

 

He said all cities roads had all been blocked, while Mahdi Army fighters attack Iraqi forces from residential and commercial blocks.

'Historic mission'

 

In a speech broadcast on state TV, al-Maliki said: "We have made up our minds to enter this battle, and we will continue until the end."

 

He said Iraq had become a "nation of gangs, militias and outlaws" and he was undertaking an "historic mission" in Basra to restore "the law of the land".

 

Your Views

What are the reasons for the surge of violence in Iraq?

Send us your views

The Basra crackdown is seen as a key test for al-Maliki, with the ability of Iraq's leaders and armed forces to control such situations central to US hopes of pulling its own forces out of the country.

 

At a speech in Ohio on Thursday, George Bush, the US president, praised al-Maliki, citing the violent crackdown on Basra as evidence that his government is increasingly able to handle security without US leadership.

 

Bush's speech at a US air force museum in Dayton is one of a series of addresses made in defence of the five-year-old war in Iraq, and intended to prove that the so-called troop surge is having an effect.

  

Rejecting suggestions that Iraq's leaders were "foot dragging", he said they were "striving to build a modern democracy on the rubble of three decades of tyranny."

'Bold decision'

 

Praising what he said was al-Maliki's "bold decision" to take on the Basra militias, he said the move was a turning point in showing that Iraq is taking on more responsibility.

 

"There's a strong commitment by the central government of Iraq to say that no one is above the law," Bush said.

 

Thousands of al-Sadr supporters in Baghdad on Thursday demonstrated against the current crackdown, calling on the Iraqi prime minister to resign.

 

In the Kazimiyah neighbourhood, marching protesters denounced al-Maliki as a "new dictator" while carrying a coffin bearing a crossed-out picture of the US-backed prime minister.

 

Protests also took place in the mainly Shia district of Sadr City.

 

Al-Sadr himself released a statement on Thursday calling for a political solution to the growing crisis and an end to the "shedding of Iraqi blood."

 

But the statement, released by a close aide, stopped short of ordering the Mahdi Army to halt fighting.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Featured
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.