“I call upon the Arab leaders to give the resistance its legitimacy and to stand by the Iraqi people, not against them”
Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi Shia leader
Baghdad is under a curfew amid the violence, with restrictions set to be reviewed by the military command on Sunday.
Friday’s attacks on the Green Zone prompted the US state department to order embassy personnel to stay inside.
In Basra, US-led forces entered the fighting for the first time, carrying out bombing raids in the city overnight, a British military spokesman said.
However, the country’s largest Shia bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), boycotted the emergency session, arguing that the crackdown in the south is a question of law and order, not legislative policy.
The Dawa party of al-Maliki, who is personally supervising the military operation in southern Iraq, is a member of the UIA.
Falah Shanshal, an MP from the Sadrist bloc, told Al Jazeera that al-Maliki’s offer to reward fighters for turning over their weapons was “a cheap stunt”.
“This is the approach of tyrants … they are not achieving anything in Basra and they are relying on the occupations air power and those in Basra are collaborating with the occupations to kill their own people,” he said.
Al-Maliki has pledged “no retreat” in the fight against Shia militia forces.
George Bush, the US president, said that the violence in Iraq was a “defining moment” for the country and a key test for al-Maliki’s government.
“This is a test and a moment for the Iraqi government which strongly has supported prime minister Maliki’s actions,” he said.
“It is an interesting moment for the people of Iraq because in order for this democracy to survive they must have confidence in their government’s ability to protect them and to be even-handed.”
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.
|Police and hospital officials said five people
died in a US raid in Sadr City [AFP]
Helicopters dropped leaflets on Basra calling on residents to help the government in its fight “to rid Basra of outlaws”.
Few journalists have been able to travel to the southern city but witnesses said that 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 attacked Iraqi forces from residential and commercial blocks.