American and Iraqi forces have killed some 400 "suspected militants" since the start of a major security crackdown in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday. Maliki made this comment while visiting the command center for the operation which was launched 10 days ago and urged security forces not to be swayed by sectarian loyalties.
According to Reuters, Maliki told reporters 426 suspects had been detained in the crackdown "and around that number have been killed" since it was launched in mid-February.
North of Baghdad, Iraqi forces supported by U.S. aircraft killed "tens" of militants early on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said. Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul-Kareem Khalaf said a large Iraqi force clashed with gunmen in a rural area of Mashahda at dawn. U.S. air strikes destroyed the base.
Maliki said the crackdown would be extended to other provinces once Baghdad was stabilized. "I'm very optimistic about this plan because of the cooperation between the people and the security forces," he said.
"We will punish all those who ease up on searches involving people from their sect or ethnicity," the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets of Shi'ite towns on Saturday to protest Friday's detention of Ammar al-Hakim, the son of a prominent Shiite leader. The U.S. military said Ammar al-Hakim was held on Friday because members of his convoy acted suspiciously at a border checkpoint while returning from Iran.
On the ground, car bomb blasts hit parts of Baghdad on Saturday. At least four civilians were killed and nearly 10 injured, police said. In a separate blast, a bomb stashed on a minibus killed at least one passenger and injured five in central Baghdad.
According to the AP, a car rigged with explosives blew apart near a joint Iraqi-U.S. patrol in a mostly Sunni area in western Baghdad, damaging at least one Humvee, police said. Two civilians were killed.
In a commercial district in central Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol, but missed the vehicles. At least two civilians were killed and five injured, police said.