Calm returning to south Iraq after 30 killed in clashes

Other News Materials 20 April 2008 14:00 (UTC +04:00)

Normality returned Sunday to the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, a day after 30 people were killed in fighting between police and Shiite militiamen, while the government continued its campaign to tighten its control over Basra. ( dpa )

Nasiriyah was quiet Sunday morning, according to security sources, after fighting over the last 24 hours between Iraqi security forces and followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, local officials said.

At least 25 militiamen and five security personnel were killed and 25 injured in the fighting in Shioukh near Nasiriyah, 350 kilometres south of Baghdad.

Further south in Basra, Iraqi troops continued their campaign to assert their control across the oil-rich province.

Al-Sadr's aide, Harith al-Azari, said offices of the Martyr al- Sadr organization in Basra would be turned over to the authorities on orders of the cleric.

"We have started to evacuate the office and move the furniture. We will turn it over to the authorities," al-Azari was quoted as saying by the state-owned daily al-Sabah.

The move comes after the Iraqi government asked political groups in the city to leave state offices they seized and turn them over to the authorities.

"The government decreed that all state buildings seized by political groups be evicted," General Abdel Karim Khalaf from the Ministry of Interior said.

The decree will apply to all groups, not just a certain party, the general said.

Islamic al-Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has already turned over its offices in Basra in compliance with the government's decree.

Al-Sadr's move comes a day after he gave a "final warning" to the government to end its offensive against his followers or he would launch an open war "until liberation."

His warning sparked fears that the country was bracing for an increase in violence, ending a period of a relative decrease in attacks, especially in Baghdad.

The warning comes as the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, known as Abu-Hamza al-Muhajir, urged his fighters to launch an offensive against US troops in the next weeks, according to a recording posted on Islamist websites Saturday.

Al-Muhajir also called on his followers to step up attacks on members of the so-called Awakening Councils - US-backed tribal forces recruited to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents.

In Kirkuk, a member of the council, Mahmud al-Ubaydi, was shot dead along with his son by gunmen, according to police officer, Sarhad Qadir.

An Awakening Council was set up three weeks ago to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq group in Kirkuk, 250 kilometres north of Baghdad.