Iraqi Prime Minister Says No Retreat
Mounting anger focused on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is personally overseeing operations against the militias dominated by Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters amid a violent power struggle in Basra, Iraq's southern oil hub.
The Iraqi leader made his pledge to tribal leaders in the Basra area as military operations continued for a fourth day with stiff resistance.
"We have made up our minds to enter this battle and we will continue until the end. No retreat," he said in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state TV.
The events threatened to unravel a Mahdi Army cease-fire and lead to a dramatic escalation in violence after a period of relative calm that had lasted for months.
Sadrist lawmakers in Baghdad issued a strongly worded statement demanding a halt to the military operations and appealing to Iraqi security forces to stand down.
"We call on our brothers in the Iraqi army and the brave national police not to be tools of death in the hands of the new dictatorship," Sadrist lawmaker Falah Shanshal said.
The crisis was seen as a test of the Iraqi government's ability to eventually take over its own security. The U.S.-led coalition has a minimal presence in Basra after British forces turned over responsibility for the area to the Iraqis in late December.
Demonstrators in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah called al-Maliki a "new dictator" as they carried a coffin bearing a crossed-out picture of the U.S.-backed prime minister, who belongs to a rival political party. A sea of people also rallied in Sadr City, Baghdad's main Shiite district.