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Iraqi PM Gives Basra Militants 72 Hours to Surrender Arms

By VOA News
26 March 2008

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered Shi'ite gunmen fighting government forces in the southern city of Basra to surrender their weapons within three days or face the consequences.

Mr. Maliki issued the ultimatum from oil-rich Basra Wednesday, where he is supervising a major military operation against Shi'ite militias.

Iraqi officials say at least 40 people have been killed and at least 200 others wounded in two days of fierce fighting in the south.

Elsewhere, officials say renewed fighting today in Baghdad's Sadr City district has killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 100 others.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has urged his followers to stage protests against recent raids and detentions targeting fighters from his Mahdi army militia.

In Washington, President Bush held a meeting at the U.S. Defense Department with top advisors to discuss whether to continue reducing troop levels in Iraq.

The alternative is to take a pause to see if recent gains in Iraq's security hold.

A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, told reporters that the Bush administration applauds Mr. Maliki's decision to take action in Basra. Fratto said the Iraqi government is targeting illegal militia and criminal gangs in an effort to take control of its own security. He added that the White House suspects Iran is assisting some insurgents in the region.

The clashes in Basra are jeopardizing a seven-month-old cease-fire that Moqtada al-Sadr declared last year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq says rockets or mortar shells struck Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone today, seriously wounding three Americans.

And in the northern town of Tikrit, U.S. and Iraqi forces say at least five Iraqi civilians, including a judge, have been killed during fighting between U.S. troops and suspected al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.

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