BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded Saturday that militants claiming loyalty to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army lay down their arms, in an unusually strongly-worded statement.
Noting that many of the leaders of the populist Shiite movement have called for peace between Iraqis, Maliki alleged that those still fighting against security forces must be allies of Saddam Hussein's former regime.
"We have heard statements from officials in the Sadr movement that they are against using arms and that they condemn those who hold weapons," the prime minister said, according to a statement from his office.
"This puts us in front of a fact we must face courageously: If those are Sadrists, then Sadrist leaders disavow clearly those who carry guns.
"Therefore, these gunmen are infiltrated Saddamist and Baathist gangs and robbers using this movement as a front," Maliki said.
The statement came as fighting continued between Mahdi Army elements and Iraqi forces in the southern city of Diwaniyah and after a night of fierce clashes with British forces in Basra.
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