Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi PM declares state of emergency in restive Basra

AGENCIES , BASRA, IRAQ

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared yesterday a month-long state of emergency in Basra in response to the violence plaguing the country's main southern city.

"We hope after this month that we will come back to Basra and see that the situation has improved a lot," Maliki told reporters in Iraq's second city after announcing the measure.

Security forces would be deployed in the streets of Basra day and night and they would also conduct search operations, a government source said, giving more details.

Maliki, who was heading a high-level government delegation to Basra to restore security, earlier vowed to crack down with an "iron fist" on gangs threatening security in the southern city.

Security has deteriorated sharply in Basra over the past year as rival factions from the Shiite Muslim majority tussle for a share of the power handed to Shiites by the US overthrow of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated administration.

Basra, whose oil accounts for virtually all of Iraq's state revenues, is a major prize for all parties.

Stressing Basra was crucial for the country, Maliki earlier told local leaders in an address broadcast live on television: "We will beat with an iron fist on the heads of gangs who are manipulating security ... Security is first, second and third. This must be said."

Maliki is a leading member of the ruling, but fractious, Shiite Islamist United Alliance.

The main Alliance factions in Basra's power struggle are the armed Badr organization, the governor's Fadhila party and the movement of cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

A source close to Fadhila warned last week it could halt oil exports.

The US hopes that Maliki's grand coalition of Shiites, minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds will tackle widespread guerrilla and sectarian violence that threatens to tear Iraq apart.

But there is little sign of any let-up in the cycle of killings and revenge attacks, with a spate of bombings claiming at least 100 lives this week, mainly in Baghdad. Most of the victims were civilians.

Police said they had found 42 bodies over the last 24 hours in different parts of the capital, many of them shot, bound and showing signs of torture.

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