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Maliki to Launch More Attacks in South as Sadr Calls for Massive Protests

Also: US air strike kills three members of one Basra family.
 
 
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BASRA, Iraq -- A US military air strike on a house in the southern Iraq city of Basra killed three members of a family and wounded three more, a teenage survivor said on Thursday.

The attack at around 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Wednesday in the Al-Qibla neighbourhood of the southern oil hub flattened the family home, Ayad Jailan said.

The 16-year-old said that his father, Awad Jailan, his mother and a brother were all killed and two sisters and another brother were wounded.

An AFP photographer on the scene said he saw three bodies.

"I went out just before six o'clock to buy goods from the shop. When I was there I heard the air strike. I rushed back home to find the house collapsed," Jailan said.

"I started removing rubble with my hands to reach my family," he said, adding that emergency workers eventually recovered three siblings alive along with the bodies of his parents and brother.

The US military confirmed its aircraft carried out a strike but said it had targeted "enemy forces."

"In support of the Iraqi security forces, coalition forces directed aerial fire against enemy forces April 2 near Al-Qibla, killing one enemy and destroying a house," a US military statement said.

Al-Qibla is among a string of Basra neighborhoods controlled by the Mahdi Army militia of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi PM to launch more assaults against militiamen

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday said he planned to launch more crackdowns on militiamen as cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for a massive anti-US protest next week.

Maliki said future assaults by government forces could not be ruled out after last week's crackdown in the southern city of Basra, which mostly targeted fighters of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

"I expect more crackdowns like this. We do not negotiate with outlaws," the premier told a news conference at his office in the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"The coming days will witness more assaults as people are still in the control of gangs," he said, naming areas such as Shuala, Sadr City and Ameriyah in Baghdad as possible targets of new assaults.

Shuala and Sadr City are bastions of Sadr loyalists while Ameriyah used to be a stronghold of Sunni insurgents.

The Basra crackdown quickly fueled clashes in other Shiite regions of Iraq, including in the capital, and left at least 461 people killed and more than 1,100 wounded.

The assaults were welcomed by US President George W. Bush, who called the violence unleashed at the time a "defining moment" in new Iraq.

On Thursday he also insisted that he did not sign any deal with any militant group to end the clashes that erupted after the Basra crackdown, although he acknowledged negotiations between Sadr's group and some parliamentarians.

Sadr, meanwhile, called for a massive nationwide protest on April 9, the day of the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

Five years ago on that day, US marines entered Baghdad and pulled down a giant statue of Saddam in central Firdoos Square.

Since then Sadr and his followers have been demanding an end to the "tyrant occupation" by US-led forces in Iraq.

On Thursday a statement from Sadr's office in the central holy city of Najaf said all Iraqis, "Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Arabs, must express their rejection and raise their voice against the tyrant occupier" in protests on April 9.

It urged the participation of "millions" of Iraqis.

"Express your rejection by participating in this demonstration. Carry Iraqi flags that show the unity of Iraq. Do not ignore this protest," the statement said.

 
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