Iraqi PM says some Shia militants worse than Al Qaeda

March 30th, 2008 - 7:54 am ICT by admin  

Baghdad, March 30 (Xinhua) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said some Shia militants were worse than Al Qaeda, as the Shia militia Mahdi Army continued heavy clashes with Iraqi forces Saturday. “Unfortunately we were talking about Al Qaeda but there are some among us who are worse than Al Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is killing innocents, destroying establishments and they (Shia gunemen) are also doing so,” he said at a meeting with tribal leaders in Basra that was broadcast by the state broadcaster al-Iraqiya.

“Al-Qaeda wants to see that the political process fails and they are planning” the same thing. “We are facing another danger which is in our midst,” he said, referring to the Shia militants.

The Mahdi Army, which is loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, accuses Maliki of targeting the Sadrists for political reasons.

Maliki, who has been in Basra since Monday to oversee a major offensive by Iraqi security forces dubbed “Operation Cavalry Assault” with the aim of restoring order in the city where instability is spreading, dismissed the notion that the campaign is politically motivated.

“We came to Basra to fight outlaws and smugglers. We did not come to confront a party or some political bloc. We do not seek a political face-off,” he explained.

On Wednesday, Maliki had given the militants in Basra 72 hours to surrender their weapons. He extended that deadline to April 8 Friday, announcing those who hand in their heavy and medium weapons can receive financial rewards.

However, the prime minister has dismissed the chance of negotiating with “criminal gangs”, vowing to “fight to the end”.

The Mahdi Army Saturday insisted that it would not surrender despite a government ultimatum.

“The sons of Sadr movement renew their rejection to hand over their weapons in this stage as the occupiers are still in our country,” Shiek Ali al-Sa’id, an aide to the head of Sadr office in Basra said.

“Since the first day of occupation we have opposed the occupiers and took our weapons against them. This is a religious and patriotic stance demanded from all Iraqis,” he said.

“We will hand over our weapons as soon as the occupation leave Iraq and under an sovereign Iraqi government,” he added.

The five-day clash has claimed more than 120 lives in Basra with some 500 people wounded, according to a local security source.

Sadr pull out his ministers from the cabinet last year, mainly because Maliki’s government rejected his demand of expelling foreign troops.

Basra, some 500 km south of Baghdad, is Iraq’s second largest city and one of the most important oil production and exporting regions.

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