BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces have completed their deployment in the southern city of Amara ahead of a planned offensive against militia groups in the Shiite stronghold, a top commander said on Monday.
“The military is fully deployed to ensure total control of the city without leaving any gaps for the militants to flee,” said a statement quoting General Nasir al-Abadi, a senior Iraqi commander from the defence ministry.
Iraqi forces supported by US troops began amassing on Saturday in the province of Maysan and its capital Amara for a planned crackdown on militiamen, many believed to be linked to hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraqi army officials have however declined to give troop numbers.
Abadi said the security forces are calling on local tribal leaders in the region and urging them to “support and facilitate the mission.”
He also called upon militiamen to surrender their weapons as directed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who on Sunday gave them a four-day deadline before the operation is due to begin on Thursday.
British troops transferred security control of Maysan to Iraqi forces in April 2007, but peace in the province, and Amara in particular, has remained fragile, with intense Shiite infighting.
Militiamen from Sadr’s Mahdi Army virtually seized control of Amara soon after the city was transferred to the Iraqis.
US-led forces believe that Amara, located close to the Iranian border, is a route for weapons smuggling into Iraq from its overwhelmingly Shiite neighbour.
Maliki launched a similar attack against rival Shiite militias, mainly the Mahdi Army, in the main southern city and oil hub of Basra in March.
It triggered fierce fighting between the militiamen and security forces in Basra and other Shiite regions that left hundreds of people dead.