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Iraqi PM Gives Basra Militants 3 Days to Surrender Arms or Face Consequences

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered Shi'ite gunmen fighting government forces in the southern city of Basra to surrender their weapons within three days or face the consequences.

Mr. Maliki issued the ultimatum Wednesday from oil-rich Basra, where he is supervising a major military operation against Shi'ite militias.

Iraqi officials say at least 40 people have been killed and at least 200 others wounded in two days of fierce fighting in the area.

Also Wednesday, officials say renewed fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City district has killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 100 others.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has urged his followers to stage protests against recent raids and detentions targeting fighters from his Mahdi army militia.

In other violence Wednesday, Britain's military said one of its soldiers was killed in a firefight in the south, while the U.S. military said two soldiers were killed in Baghdad by hostile fire.

A White House spokesman said the Bush administration applauds Mr. Maliki's decision to take action in Basra, saying the Iraqi government is trying to take control of its own security. He said the White House suspects Iran is assisting some insurgents in the region.

The clashes in Basra are jeopardizing a seven-month-old cease-fire that Moqtada al-Sadr declared last year.

In the capital, the U.S. embassy in Iraq says rockets or mortar shells struck Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, seriously wounding three Americans.

In Tikrit, U.S. and Iraqi forces say at least five Iraqi civilians, including a judge, were killed during fighting between U.S. troops and suspected al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents.

Late Tuesday, the leader of a local citizens group, the Sons of Iraq, and two of his bodyguards were killed by an improvised-explosive device northwest of Baghdad.

Witnesses say that, at the time of the explosion, the group's leader was trying to disarm the device.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.