June 20, 2008 in Nation/World

Troops fill city on Iran border

Ernesto Londono and Aahad Ali Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

A young boy offers cold water to an Iraqi army soldier carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher during the beginning of combat operations in Amarah, Iraq, on Thursday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi and U.S. troops launched a military operation Thursday in the city of Amarah, a Shiite militia stronghold on the Iranian border, meeting virtually no resistance.

In a move that angered followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi troops detained the vice governor of Maysan province, who also serves as the mayor of Amarah, the provincial capital.

Sadrist leaders in Maysan have vowed to cooperate with Iraqi troops but have suggested that the government is trying to expand its presence in al-Sadr strongholds to weaken the movement politically before elections scheduled for the fall.

The operation, dubbed Promise of Peace, is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s fourth major push this year against fighters and banned weapons in Iraqi cities that have been largely lawless for years. Earlier crackdowns targeted the southern port city of Basra, Baghdad’s Sadr City district and Mosul in the north.

The government announced the operation last week and offered militiamen a four-day period in which to turn themselves in and hand over banned weapons, including mortars, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.

Adnan al-Silawi, director of the al-Sadr office in Amarah, said Iraqi troops had detained several of the movement’s leaders without cause and that an al-Sadr office employee who was detained two days before the operation began was released Thursday with a broken arm.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the government has detained about 700 people and is assessing the evidence against them.

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