Iraq PM gives Shi'ite fighters seven days to surrender

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday gave Shi’ite fighters in the southern province of Maysan a seven-day deadline to surrender themselves amid an ongoing crackdown.

“Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to give a period of seven days, starting 10am [local time] today, to gunmen and outlaws to surrender themselves in Maysan,” Major General Mohammed al-Askari, spokesperson for the Iraqi Defence Ministry, said.

Askari said this was an amnesty “for those who want to surrender themselves but not for those who have the blood of Iraqis on their hands”.

Before the operation was launched in the oil-rich southern province of Maysan on June 19, Maliki had given a four-day deadline for militants there to surrender their weapons and themselves.

Askari said the latest deadline was issued by Maliki because many gunmen had told local tribal chiefs that they wanted to surrender but “they were afraid of the punishment”.

The authorities say that since the Maysan crackdown began, it has netted nearly 100 people and large caches of weapons such as guns, mortars and landmines.

Many of those detained are from the movement of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a strong following in Amara, the capital of Maysan.

However, most of 500 wanted men have fled the area.

The Maysan operation follows similar military assaults by Iraqi troops, backed by United States soldiers, in the main southern port city of Basra and in the capital, Baghdad.

Those assaults were launched in March and led to fierce gun battles between security forces and militiamen, mainly from Sadr’s feared Mehdi Army militia.

Hundreds of people were killed in the clashes.

Maliki’s latest initiative comes one day after seven Americans were killed in bomb attacks in Baghdad and in the northern province of Nineveh.

Four Americans, two of them soldiers and two civilians, were killed when the district council office in Baghdad’s Sadr City was bombed on Tuesday. Six Iraqis and an Italian of Iraqi origin were also killed in the attack, which took place ahead of an election in the council.

The US military said the bombing was carried out by Shi’ite extremists.

The Sadr City bombing was a “terrible reminder of the dangers” faced by Americans working in Iraq, said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

One US soldier, three members of the district council and seven other Iraqis were wounded in the blast.

Hours after that blast, another bomb attack in the northern province of Nineveh killed three US soldiers and their interpreter, the US military said on Wednesday without specifying the exact location of the attack.

In a separate attack in Nineveh, a car bomb exploded in the provincial capital of Mosul on Tuesday, wounding 90 civilians, the military said.

It blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq operatives for the attack in Mosul city, which the military claims is the last urban bastion of the jihadist group.

On Monday, two US soldiers were killed in small-arms fire after a meeting in the local council office in the town of Madain, south of Baghdad.

Since Monday the military has lost seven soldiers and its overall death toll in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion has reached 4 109, according to a tally based on independent website www.icasualties.org.

Already this month 25 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq. This compared with May’s figure of 19, which was the lowest monthly toll since the invasion, according to the website.

The recent fall in violence across Iraq has led to an increased presence of US troops on the streets, most of them involved in community services to help push the national reconciliation programme.

But this has also made them vulnerable targets of insurgents and militiamen.—AFP

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