- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government has welcomed an order by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to pull his fighters off the streets. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Iraqi state TV in an interview that the decision is “positive and responsive.” Today’s offer was contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf. Sheik al-Sadr also called on the government to stop what he calls haphazard raids and release security detainees who haven’t been charged. Violent clashes have broken out over a government crackdown in the southern city of Basra.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shi’ite militias wield power.

Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire today would be extended indefinitely.

The U.S. Embassy tightened its security measures, ordering all staff to use armored vehicles for all travel in the Green Zone and to sleep in reinforced buildings until further notice after six days of rocket and mortar attacks, which left two Americans dead, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the mounting crisis, Mr. al-Maliki, himself a Shi’ite, vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. He called the fight for control of Basra “a decisive and final battle.”

British ground troops, who controlled the city until handing it over to the Iraqis last December, also joined the battle for Basra, firing artillery yesterday for the first time in support of Iraqi forces.

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