Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia
Iraqi PM freezes raids targeting militia
By HAMID AHMED, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 4
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
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
"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
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.