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Iraq Transition

Officials say violence over, order back in Iraqi city

Story Highlights

• Iraqi and British officials deny a Shiite militia is in control of Amara
• Iraqi authorities send more troops to the beseiged southern city
• Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said to call for cease-fire, calm
• At least 16 people reported dead and 90 wounded in clashes
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- British and Iraqi officials said Friday that order has been restored in a southern Iraqi city after a Shiite militia reportedly took control in fighting that left at least 16 people dead.

Lethal gunfights and blasts erupted Thursday in Amara -- the provincial capital of Maysan province, in the heart of the Shiite-dominated south near the Iraq-Iran border.

On Friday, Iraq deployed more troops to Amara, where a Shiite militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had taken over, according to witnesses. (Explainer: Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?)

Clashes between police and militia members wounded 90 and left 16 dead, a hospital official said Friday. (Watch masked gunmen shoot in the streets amid raging flames -- 2:06)

But Iraqi and British officials disputed that the militia was in control.

Maj. Wasfi Sharhan, an Iraqi army officer in Amara, said that Iraqi soldiers arrived in the city Friday and have been deployed to the streets.

They have set up checkpoints and are carrying out rotating patrols, he said.

The official said the Iraqi army reports that police have returned to most of their stations that were attacked, except for those damaged in the fighting.

A British military spokesman, Maj. Charlie Burbridge, denied that "rogue" forces took control of the town. He said the situation had been defused.

"In the end, it was the Iraqi police force and army who moved together to deal with the situation, and they dealt with it reasonably well," said Burbridge, who said gunmen had dispersed.

Al-Sadr -- politically popular in Baghdad's Shiite districts and across southern Iraq -- has opposed the U.S. presence in the country, and the forces loyal to him have battled U.S. troops.

They also are thought to be linked to the wave of Sunni-Shiite revenge killings plaguing Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with al-Sadr and Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf this week, urging the clerics to help end the violence. (Watch as hundreds of militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric take the city -- 2:45 Video)

It's unclear whether al-Sadr had supported the militia's actions. Al-Sadr has denounced and warned against violence in recent days, and many of his followers may have spun off into autonomous groups.

Sheikh Yousif al-Ansari, a leading member with al-Sadr's group in Baghdad, said Friday that al-Sadr had called for an immediate cease-fire in Amara and urged calm.

The official said that the imams of Shiite mosques during noon prayers also called for an end to fighting.

An official with al-Maliki's office said the prime minister sent an emergency security delegation to Amara that included the Minister of State for Security Affairs Shirwan al-Waili and senior officials from the Interior and Defense ministries.

Police chief reported killed

The death of a Maysan police official in a bombing sparked the clashes in the city, sources said.

The family of Ali Qasim al-Tamimi, the province's chief of police intelligence, accused the Mehdi Army of carrying out the killing, and in a retaliatory move, these relatives kidnapped the militia commander's brother, who reportedly was in Amara, police said.

In a call to CNN, an Amara resident reported hearing what he called "a fierce gunbattle" taking place in the center of the city.

Another witness said that he saw at least five burned police vehicles in the street.

Gunmen -- identified as "rogue militia elements" and numbering from 200 to 300 -- attacked two police stations Thursday, said Burbridge, the British spokesman.

The same stations came under attack again Friday, Burbridge said, and police were unable to repel the attack and abandoned the stations, one of which was on fire.

Witnesses had said that at least 200 gunmen were seen in the city and that the militia had taken over most of a police station.

British troops have about 600 troops in Maysan province. But they withdrew from Amara to concentrate on the eastern part of the province and deal with smuggling across the Iranian border.

The withdrawal occurred in August after British forces determined that Iraqi security forces were capable of handling routine security patrols.

British troops have a force on standby ready to enter the city should the Iraqi government request their help.

CNN's Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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