Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday ordered his followers to reject Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's call to surrender their arms. "Sadr has told us not to surrender our arms except to a state that can throw out the (US) occupation," Haider al-Jabari of the Sadr movement's political bureau told AFP.
On Wednesday, Maliki gave a 72-hour deadline to Shiite fighters, mostly Mahdi Army fighters loyal to the Shiite cleric, to disarm in the southern city of Basra after launching a crackdown against them a day earlier.
On his part, al-Maliki has vowed to remain in Basra and told tribal leaders in the southern city that he "will not leave Basra until security is restored." He promised to "stand up to these gangs" throughout Iraq and called Basra "a decisive and final battle."
He added: "Our determination is strong. We will not leave Basra until security is restored, those who break the law are punished and those who draw their weapons in the face of the state are punished."