Middle East News
Iraqi forces enter Basra's ports to maintain security (Roundup)
Apr 1, 2008, 14:52 GMT
Baghdad - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi forces to enter the ports of the southern Iraqi city of Basra to maintain security against criminal gangs, media reports said on Tuesday.
In the late hours of Monday, Iraqi forces entered the ports of Khor al-Zobair and Om al-Kasr, according to al-Maliki's orders, the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency said.
The move came as part of a security operation launched by al- Maliki to fight illegal militants.
The Iraqi forces are imposing full security control over the city's two largest ports.
Meanwhile, al-Maliki has also ordered his deputy ministers to further enhance services and facilities for Basra's citizens, according to a statement issued by the prime minister's office.
Earlier, al-Maliki ordered security forces in Baghdad not to carry out security sweeps and arrests unless they had court warrants, a security official told VOI.
He also ordered security forces to be firm with all those breaking the law and using weapons, General Qassim Atta, spokesman for Baghdad operations, told VOI.
It remains unclear whether the order will apply only to Baghdad or will be extended to other parts of Iraq.
The move came after the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged the government to stop random arrests of members of his Mahdi Army militia.
In a statement issued by al-Sadr himself on Tuesday, he thanked his Shiite militia for their patience and obedience during the latest clashes, asking them to unite efforts against the US forces in Iraq, describing it as 'the biggest enemy,' VOI said.
Al-Sadr ordered his militiamen to stop fighting government troops in Basra and other Shiite-dominated cities, heralding an end to deadly clashes that erupted March 25.
The truce in Basra is still holding. Normal life is resuming as Iraqi security forces continue to carry out a campaign to disarm militias and crack down on outlaws.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the government would continue a crackdown on militias and criminal gangs.
The political process was obstructed by militias infiltrating security forces, Salih said.
'The loyalty of security bodies, whether the police or the army, should be to Iraq and the state, not to political parties,' Salih added.
'The situation in Basra is not easy against a backdrop of power struggles and rivalries. There are armed gangs wreaking havoc in Basra and its ports,' the deputy premier warned.
Iraqi medical sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that at least 950 civilians had been killed and 1,200 wounded in violent incidents and clashes since March 2008.
Most of the dead were killed during the clashes between the Iraqi forces and Shiite militias that peaked on March 25 in the Shiite cities of Basra, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Hillah, Karbala and Diwaniyah.
In Karbala alone, one of the deadliest incidents left 60 civilians killed and more than 50 others injured on March 17, sources said.
Separately, gunmen shot dead six members of a tribal police unit near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, a security official told dpa.
The gunmen, in a convoy of cars pretending to be celebrating a wedding, opened fire on a checkpoint manned by six members of a tribal squad known as the Awakening Council, Brigadier Hasan Ahmed of Salahaddin province said.
The checkpoint is near Thirthar lake, to the west of Tikrit, 170 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Awakening Councils are US-funded tribal forces set up in Iraq's Sunni areas to fight insurgents from the al-Qaeda terrorist network.