Iraqi forces amass for crackdown in south

June 15th, 2008 - 3:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Baghdad, June 15 (DPA) Iraqi government troops continued Sunday to take up position in the southern province of Maysan in a fresh operation against Shia militias a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave militiamen a deadline to surrender their arms. Maysan will be a demilitarized zone effective from Sunday and militiamen have four days to surrender their arms, according to a statement issued Saturday by the commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

Army tanks have been patrolling the streets of the provincial capital Amarah, which is dominated politically by supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi troops have assembled at an airport to the north-east of Amarah and at a local stadium, security officers told the media.

The crackdown is the fourth offensive this year in which al-Maliki - the commander of the armed forces - has sent troops into a city to rid it of Shia or Sunni militias.

Army helicopters dropped leaflets on the city, urging people to stay home and not interfere with the assault while the government offered monetary rewards for information on militiamen’s hideouts and weapons caches.

The launch of the offensive came a day al-Sadr announced that he was reorganizing his movement to include an armed wing and a political branch focusing on politics and providing social services to the public.

Amarah with a population of about 350,000 people is smaller than Basra, which was the scene of another crackdown against al-Sadr’s loyalists in March.

However, the city is strategically important as it is suspected by the US military to be a main conduit for weapons smuggling from Iran along the border across marshland.

Shortly after the US invasion, rival militias were engaged in frequent fighting in Amarah, over which the Baghdad government had limited control.

Maysan is the only province in Iraq that is run by a local government aligned with al-Sadr.

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