Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered his forces to stop raids against suspected Shi'ite militants.

In a Friday statement, Mr. Maliki also offered an amnesty to those who participated in last week's Basra violence, if they lay down their weapons. Mr. Maliki did not say how long his offer would stand.

On Thursday, Mr. Maliki said he intended to launch more crackdowns, like the recent one in Basra, against extremist gunmen in Baghdad and elsewhere.

The southern city of Basra was the scene of recent deadly clashes between Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

During the fighting, more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and police reportedly refused to fight, or abandoned their posts, according to Iraqi military and police sources speaking on condition of anonymity.

In violence Friday, The British military reported a U.S. airstrike in Basra. Eyewitnesses said people were hurt, but the number of casualties is unclear.

In another incident, Iraqi police said a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 20 others at a funeral north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, a top United Nations official has appealed for significant funds to improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief John Holmes says the funds will cover food, health, shelter, water sanitation and education. Holmes warns of a "very grave" humanitarian problem in Iraq without the added funds.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department announced it will renew for one year a contract with Blackwater, a private security firm whose guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqis in September.

Officials said Blackwater will continue to work in Iraq while the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate the killings.

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


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