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The Iraqi commander of the Baghdad security crackdown said Tuesday that Iraq planned to close its borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours as part of the drive to secure the Iraqi capital.
Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, addressing the nation on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, did not say when the borders would be closed, but a government official said this was expected in the next two days.
The official said the borders with Iran would only be partially reopened three days after their closure.
The United States has long charged that Iran and Syria were allowing militants to use their territory to slip into Iraq to launch attacks against US and Iraqi forces as well as civilian Iraqi Shi'ites. Iraqi authorities have routinely echoed the US charges against Syria, but they rarely accused Iran of the same.
The US military in Iraq this week accused the highest levels of the Iranian leadership of arming Shi'ite militants in Iraq with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs that have killed more than 170 members of the US-led coalition forces. Iran maintains close relations with most of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders.
Gambar said Baghdad's night-time curfew would be extended by one hour when the security drive gets underway, starting from 8 pm and ending at 6 am. Permits issued to civilians to carry weapons in public would be suspended for the duration of the operation, he said.
The Baghdad security plan is widely seen as possibly the US military's final attempt to placate the Iraqi capital, which has been wracked by violence and sectarian killings for most of the past four years. It would be the third attempt by US forces and their Iraqi allies to end the violence in Baghdad since al-Maliki came to office in May last year. A total of 90,000 Iraqi and US troops would take part in the drive.
The US military said last week that the operation was underway, but the Iraqi side appears to think differently, with al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, saying the plan has yet to start.
Gambar's address suggested that Iraqi authorities planned to exercise wide reaching powers to ensure the success of the plan. A criminal court, for example, would hold emergency hearings to rule under the country's anti-terrorism law on cases like murder, theft, rape, kidnapping, damaging public property or the possession and transfer of arms and ammunition, he said.
He announced unspecified restrictions on public places, giving as examples sports clubs and the offices of trade unions, companies and organizations. The drivers and passengers of vehicles traveling without number plates and registration papers are to be arrested under the anti-terrorism law, he said.
Legal action would also be taken against anyone found to be keeping without official permission a government-own vehicle at his or her residence, he said.
Gambar said security forces would do everything it can to avoid going into places of worship, but warned they would so in "cases of extreme emergencies when it is feared that these places pose a threat to the lives of citizens or if they are used for unlawful purposes."
US and Iraqi authorities have repeatedly accused Sunni insurgents of using mosques to store arms or to fire at security forces from their minarets.
Gambar, a Shi'ite and a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War when he served in Saddam Hussein's army, said security forces also planned to monitor mail, parcels, telegrams and wireless communication devices for the duration of the operation. He did not elaborate.
He would report to al-Maliki on the progress of the operation on weekly basis, suggesting that the crackdown may last for weeks.
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