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Iraqi Officials Hold Emergency Meeting to Resolve Conflict in Southern City


Iraq's interior minister held an emergency meeting Saturday with Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a day after armed members of the Shi'ite leader's militia briefly took over a key southern city. The recent conflict underscores the rising power of Iraq's sectarian militias.

Interior Minister Jawad Bolani met with the powerful anti-American cleric Saturday.

A day earlier, hundreds of gunmen loyal to al-Sadr stormed the southern city of Amara, briefly capturing the entire area.

Speaking to reporters after Saturday's meeting Bolani insisted the situation in Amara has been resolved.

He says a few legal measures still need to be taken, before Iraqi forces can complete their investigation.

The showdown in Amara apparently pitted Sadr's Mahdi Army with local security forces loyal to a rival Shi'ite militia known as the Badr Brigade.

Local residents say a negotiated truce between the government and the two militias appears to be holding.

But the attack has already left a lasting impression on the public here. Increasingly, it is the militias and not the national army that are seen as having most of the power in Iraq.

Sunni militias are also pushing for an advantage. Earlier this week, hundreds of Sunni insurgents in two cities west of Baghdad held military-style parades, openly challenging the national government's authority.

Concerns are also growing of a possible major confrontation between the rival militias.

On Friday, both Shi'ite and Sunni religious leaders called for an end to the sectarian violence in Iraq.

The clerics signed a 10-point edict forbidding violence between the two Muslim sects.

The joint declaration ended a two-day meeting in Islam's holiest city, Mecca, sponsored by the Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference.

But throughout most of the country Saturday, the major news once again focused on fresh outbreaks of sectarian violence.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber targeted a minibus full of shoppers preparing for the coming Eid holiday. Police say at least four people were killed and many more seriously injured, most of them women and children.

South of Baghdad, Shi'ite gunmen battled police in Suwayra leaving at least 10 people dead.

And U.S. officials say coalition forces in Ramadi have killed a senior al-Qaida-in-Iraq leader and detained seven other suspected terrorists during a recent raid.

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