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Iraqi PM Vows to Battle Shi'ite Fighters in Basra

  • VOA News

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to continue a military assault on Shi'ite fighters in the southern city of Basra.

In remarks broadcast Saturday on state television, Mr. Maliki said government forces will remain in Basra until security is restored and those who have been fighting Iraqi troops are punished.

He also said the Shi'ite gunmen are worse than al-Qaida fighters.

More than 200 people have been killed in fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and Shi'ite militias in Basra and Baghdad since Tuesday, when Mr. Maliki ordered a crackdown on militants in Basra.

A British military spokesman Major Tom Holloway says US warplanes bombed militia strongholds today in a neighborhood just north of Basra. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Witnesses say eight people were killed in a US airstrike earlier today in the southern city.

Many casualties have occurred in Baghdad's Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A spokesman for Iraq's Health Ministry says at least 75 people have been killed there and nearly 500 wounded in clashes and US-led airstrikes.

Reports say dozens of policemen in Sadr City surrendered their weapons to Sadr's forces, saying they could not fight their own people.

On Friday, US-led coalition aircraft joined Iraqi military ground forces for the first time in their effort to crack down on the militias.

Prime Minister Maliki has extended until April 8th a deadline for militant fighters to surrender their weapons, in exchange for money. The militias have told foreign news agencies they will not accept Mr. Maliki's offer.

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