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Iraqi Troops Prepare for Next Stage of Amarah Offensive


Iraqi government forces are preparing for the next phase of a planned crackdown on militants and outlaws in the capital of southeastern Iraq's Maysan province. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.

The commander of military operations in Maysan, Tarik Abdul Wahab, met with local tribal and religious leaders in the provincial capital Amarah on Tuesday. Wahab informed them about the next phase of the military operation in the city, which is set to begin in earnest on June 19.

The commander told Iraqi state television, al-Iraqiya, that he explained the dangers that civilians could face, as well as ways to minimize those dangers. He said the leaders, especially the imams, asked many questions on behalf of Amarah's citizens. Commander Wahab added that the religious leaders will go to back the mosques and explain the security measures and operation to the public.

The military announced the operation several days ago. Helicopters dropped leaflets across Amarah on Saturday, urging residents to remain in their homes and not to interfere with the operation. Late Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement giving militants until June 18 to surrender their medium and heavy weapons in exchange for money.

Amarah borders Iran, and it is believed to be a major region for weapons smuggling.

A spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, Abdul Kareem Khalaf, praised Mr. Maliki's decision to order the operation. He said the citizens of Maysan had been waiting a long time for the military to take action against outlaws in the region.

An Islamic imam who was present at the military commander's briefing told al-Iraqiya that the upcoming operation is needed in order to save lives. He added that the city's leaders support this mission that targets outlaws, and that the Iraqi forces will need the cooperation of Amarah's citizens.

Maysan is a majority Shi'ite province. Officials say Amarah is a stronghold for anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. Sadr has said his followers will not resist the government troops.

In recent months, the Iraqi army has staged similar offensives in Baghdad's Sadr City, Basra and Mosul in an effort to clear the cities of militants and to improve stability in the country.