Baghdad's Green Zone Attacked Again

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The fortified Green Zone in Iraq's capital came under mortar or rocket attack again Monday, despite the call a day before from a radical Shiite cleric for his fighters to stand down.

A key adviser to Iraq's prime minister, meanwhile, said military operations in an oil-rich southern city besieged by nearly a week of fighting will end within days.

Sami al-Askari also said most of Basra, where the government attempted to crack down on militia fighters, was "under control" a day after Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took his Mahdi Army off the streets.

Fighting between al-Sadr's followers and Iraqi and coalition troops raged since Tuesday, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began military operations against the group and vowed to remain in Basra until the mission was accomplished. The battles there sparked violence in other southern cities and in Baghdad.

"Before the end of this week, the operations will come to an end and al-Maliki will be back to Baghdad," said al-Askari, though he gave no exact date for the prime minister's return.

Despite the relative calm that prevailed in Basra, rockets or mortars again landed in the Green Zone, the area housing the U.S. and British embassies along with much of the Iraqi government.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the attacks and said no serious injuries were reported. The U.S. military said it had no reports of major damage. The Green Zone has come under frequent attack since Easter Sunday. At least two Americans working for the U.S. government have died.

The government of al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, welcomed the move by al-Sadr to call off his fighters. After nearly a week of battling the militia, the Iraqi army had made little headway in Basra and large swaths of the city remain under the Mahdi Army's control.

An estimated 400 people have been killed as fighting spread to Baghdad neighborhoods and other southern cities.

A nine-point statement by al-Sadr also called on the government to halt its raids on his followers, indicating that the lull in fighting between his militia and government forces is fragile.

The Sadrists have complained that the government has released few of their followers under a new amnesty law, which they allege has favored Sunnis who have recently joined with the Americans to fight al-Qaida.

The cleric's decision offered a way out of a widening Shiite conflict at a time when government forces appeared to be making little headway against the well-armed militias in Basra.

Al-Sadr's order stopped short of calling on his fighters to disarm. And the government insisted it would still target "outlaws."

In Basra some supermarkets and stores were open on Monday, but residents said few people were venturing out.

In Baghdad, a citywide curfew was lifted, although a vehicle ban remained on three strongholds of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the capital.

Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold from where many of the mortars and rockets landing in the Green Zone are believed to be launched, was calm, residents said. Cars and buses were moving within the sprawling neighborhood, though they weren't allowed to leave the area.

In other parts of Baghdad, shops and schools were open and people were heading to work.

Elsewhere, unknown gunmen in a car attacked a checkpoint manned by U.S.-backed Sunni fighters near Buhriz, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Four of the fighters were killed.

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Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Bushra Juhi and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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