Clashes between Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militiamen last month has driven civilian deaths in the country to their highest level in more than six months, government figures showed on Tuesday. A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, 31 percent higher from February and the deadliest month since August 2007, according to data compiled by Iraq's interior, defense and health ministries and obtained by Reuters.
Hundreds of people were killed and many more wounded in last week's fighting after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shi'ite militiamen in the southern city of Basra. Many of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire.
Basra was relatively calm for a second straight day on Tuesday after Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called his fighters off the streets on Sunday. Al-Maliki on Tuesday claimed the crackdown in Basra was a "success" and that 10,000 extra troops would be recruited to keep order in the southern city.
According to AFP, Maliki in a statement said he had decided to implement a seven-point programme in Basra following "the stability and success of the security plan which achieved the aim of imposing law in the city and restoring normalcy." The new plan includes boosting security forces in Basra by recruiting 10,000 new troops, restoring services, imposing a strict check on vehicles without licences, building new houses for the poor and turning government-owned palaces into tourist destinations.