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US, Iraqi Forces Seize Militant Stronghold in Basra

Iraqi government forces say they have taken control of an area in the southern city of Basra formerly held by Islamic militants.

Military officials Saturday said troops seized the Hayaniya neighborhood, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

A British military spokesman, Major Tom Holloway, said British artillery and U.S. warplanes launched shells and dropped bombs in a nearby unoccupied area to show militants the firepower available to the Iraqi Army.

A spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf, said the area is now calm.

No casualty figures were immediately available.

Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hasan Kazemi Qomi, Saturday expressed support for the Iraqi military campaign that began in late March to clamp down on militants in Basra.

But he denounced U.S. military operations in Baghdad's Sadr City, another Shi'ite stronghold.

Reports say at least 12 people were killed there during pre-dawn clashes between militants and U.S.-backed Iraqi forces.

In a bid to stem the violence in the area, U.S. forces are building a massive concrete wall along a road, Al-Quds Street, that cuts through Sadr City.

And at least one militant was killed when Iraqi troops and members of the Mahdi Army clashed in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

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