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Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080404/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia By HAMID AHMED, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 4 minutes ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2008
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      Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia

      By HAMID AHMED, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 4
      minutes ago

      BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister on Friday ordered a
      nationwide freeze on raids against suspected Shiite
      militants after the leader of the biggest militia
      complained that arrests were continuing even after he
      ordered fighters off the streets.

      The announcement was a major shift from comments Prime
      Minister Nouri al-Maliki made a day earlier, and came
      after Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr — whose Mahdi Army
      militia fought government troops in the southern city
      of Basra and in Baghdad last week — hinted at
      retaliation if arrests of his followers did not stop.

      Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people
      and wounded eight when he blew himself up during a
      policeman's funeral north of Baghdad on Friday, police

      And in continuing combat in Basra, Iraqi troops killed
      seven militants and detained 16 Thursday in three
      separate incidents, a U.S. military statement said

      Al-Sadr on Sunday ordered his militiamen off the
      streets in a move that ended the weeklong fighting. He
      also demanded that the government stop arresting his
      followers and free detainees held without charge.

      Al-Maliki's statement did not mention the Mahdi Army
      by name or give a timeframe for the freeze, saying
      only that the move is designed to give a "chance to
      those who repented and want to lay down their arms."

      Al-Maliki's move appeared to be a goodwill gesture
      toward al-Sadr and his followers. But it was also a
      dramatic turnabout: He said Thursday that he intended
      to launch security operations against Mahdi Army
      strongholds in Baghdad, including Sadr City, home to
      some 2.5 million Shiites and the militia's largest

      Al-Maliki said last week that gunmen in Basra had
      until April 8 to surrender their heavy weapons, but
      Friday's statement made no mention of that deadline.

      "Those who lay down their arms and participated in the
      recent acts of violence will not be prosecuted," said
      the statement. He also ordered the repatriation of
      families forced to flee their homes because of the
      latest fighting and cash donations to the families of
      those killed or wounded in the violence.

      He said Iraqis whose property has been damaged in the
      fighting would also be compensated.

      Despite a drop in fighting, Iraqi officials insist
      that the Basra crackdown will continue until it breaks
      the stronghold that armed groups have had on the city
      since 2005.

      Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, said
      a roadside bomb targeted a British force "supporting
      an Iraqi-led operation at the very fringes of Basra."
      He said the British were "mentoring and monitoring"
      the Iraqi operation, but provided no further details.

      Meanwhile on Friday, The New York Times reported that
      more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and police refused to
      fight or abandoned their posts during the fighting in
      Basra, citing an unnamed senior Iraqi government

      Iraqi military officials said the group included at
      least two senior field commanders and dozens of

      The desertions cast new doubt on the effectiveness of
      U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces. The White House
      has conditioned further U.S. troop withdrawals on the
      readiness of the Iraqi military and police.

      The Baghdad attacker detonated an explosives vest in
      the midst of mourners attending the funeral of a Sunni
      policeman who was shot Thursday night, said an officer
      who declined to be identified because he was not
      authorized to speak to the media.

      The attack occurred in Sadiyah, a town 60 miles north
      of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province.

      Most of the victims of the attack — the deadliest in
      Diyala this year — appeared to be relatives of the
      dead policemen, the officer said.

      In Basra, Iraqi special forces captured a suspected
      militant leader who has been rallying insurgents in
      Basra to fight against coalition forces, the military
      statement said.

      "Intelligence reports have linked the man to the
      kidnapping and murder of Iraqi Army and ISOF soldiers.
      He is also believed to be involved in oil smuggling
      and foreign fighter networks," said the statement,
      which did not provide any further details.

      In a separate firefight, a coalition warplane was used
      to bomb insurgents engaging Iraqi special forces in
      the city. The air strike killed two militants, the
      statement said.

      Elsewhere, a roadside bomb killed four policeman and
      wounded one early Friday in Hillah, a town 60 miles
      south of Baghdad, a police spokesman said.

      The United Nations on Friday appealed for $265 million
      to improve the deteriorating humanitarian situation in

      U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
      and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said in
      Jordan that the funds would cover food, health,
      shelter, water sanitation, education and agriculture.
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