AMARAH, Iraq, (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister vowed Monday to extend military operations against all those who defy the “will of the nation,” but also called on Iraqi troops to respect the rights of citizens amid complaints of bad behavior and arrests without warrants.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was speaking in the southern city of Amarah, the site of an ongoing U.S.-backed Iraqi military crackdown against Shiite militiamen — the fourth such drive by government forces against Shiite and Sunni extremists. It follows similar offensives in Basra, Baghdad’s Sadr City and Mosul.
The prime minister, himself a Shiite, singled out the restive province of Diyala as a possible next stop for his troops, a day after a female suicide bomber killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens in Baqouba.
“We are today in Maysan province,” al-Maliki said in a televised address to tribal leaders in the provincial capital of Amarah. “God willing, tomorrow we will complete our march in Diyala, then we will complete our victorious operations in Mosul so that we could end this dossier.”
“We will continue chasing the remnants of the defeated al-Qaida elements, former regime followers, the militias and the outlaws,” he said.
Diyala, a province with a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite extremists north of Baghdad, has been among the hardest areas to control since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion despite an influx of thousands of additional U.S. troops as part of the so-called surge last year.
The bombing on Sunday occurred about 1 p.m. near a central government complex in the provincial capital of Baghdad.
Hours later, about 10 mortar shells slammed into the Diyala town of Udaim, 70 miles north, killing at least 10 members of a U.S.-funded Sunni group that has joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq, army and police officials said.
Maj. Mohammed Thawra, an Iraqi army battalion commander in Udaim, said 24 members of the so-called awakening council also were wounded in the attack.
The Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq has been a key factor in a sharp decline in violence over the past year. The groups have frequently been targeted by insurgents trying to reverse the security gains.
Iraqi security forces have met little resistance during the operation in Amarah, which got under way in force last week. But followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have complained of random arrests and disrespectful behavior by the troops targeting his Mahdi Army militia.
The Sadrists believe they are being unfairly singled out to undermine popular support for the movement in upcoming provincial elections.
Al-Maliki called on his military commanders to “strike with an iron fist anybody violating the law or anybody violating human rights,” including troops violating the dignity of citizens during raids or arresting innocent people such as the relatives of suspects.
“We will take the necessary measures to get affairs back to normal by imposing the law and the state’s authority,” he said. “But this shouldn’t free us from respecting the will and rights of the citizens.”
He also promised to keep Iraqi troops in the city “until we are sure that those murderers and criminals won’t return.”
U.S. and Iraqi commanders have said most of the senior militia leaders escaped to Iran and other safe havens ahead of the offensive.