( dpa ) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki extended Friday the deadline for the Shiite militia Mahdi Army to lay down its weapons until April 8, media reports said.
Al-Jazeera news channel said al-Maliki, who has launched an assault against militants in the southern city of Basra, has extended the time period for the Mahdi Army, loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, to submit all its weapons by April 8.
On Wednesday, al-Maliki set a 72-hour deadline for Shiite militants to lay down their arms or face "severe penalties."
Meanwhile, clashes between Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters in Basra raged Friday for the fourth day as unrest spread to other Shiite cities and Baghdad.
On Tuesday, heavy fighting broke out in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, as Iraqi ground forces backed by US air and ground support launched a large-scale operation to break the grip of Shiite militias and criminal gangs controlling the city.
Nearly 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers are involved in the operation, which is directed by al-Maliki, who is the general commander of the armed forces.