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Sources: Iran helped prod al-Sadr cease-fire

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  • NEW: Iraqi official backs away from timetable for ending Basra operation
  • Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr orders cooperation with Iraqi forces
  • Iraqi official says Iran and Iraqi Shiite lawmakers helped persuade al-Sadr
  • Key adviser to prime minister says most of the region under control
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From Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jonathan Wald
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday.

Police commandos take part in a demonstration Monday supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Basra.

Haidar al-Abadi, a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down.

News of Iran's involvement in the cease-fire talks came as an al-Maliki spokesman said operations targeting "outlaws" in the Shiite stronghold of Basra would end when the mission's goals were achieved. Earlier, al-Maliki spokesman Sami al-Askari said the operation would be over by week's end, but he later recanted on the timetable.

The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held.

The lawmakers hoped to persuade Iran to cut off aid to Shiite militias and to persuade al-Sadr to end the fighting. Negotiations were difficult, but the delegation achieved its aims, al-Abadi said. Video Watch how the cease-fire affects Shiite vs. Shiite fights »

News of the delegation's role comes a day after Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh firmly denied there had been direct or indirect talks between the government and al-Sadr's representatives in Najaf, where al-Sadr's headquarters is located.

Al-Dabbagh made no mention of the Iran meeting but said the government welcomes efforts by politicians to end the bloodshed in Iraq.

Iran's exact involvement in the negotiations is unclear, but two sources concur that the Islamic republic played a key role.

While al-Abadi said Iranian officials participated in the discussions, another source close to the talks said the Iranians pressured al-Sadr to craft an agreement.

Al-Sadr and some Shiite parties have close ties to Iran, a Shiite-dominated country. The talks were the latest reflection of the influence Iran wields in Iraq, where about 60 percent of the population is Shiite.

As for the operations targeting outlaws in Basra, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed, commander of operations for Iraq's Ministry of Defense, told reporters at a news conference that he hoped the mission would be brief and limited. He provided no timetable.

More than 400 people have died since early last week in battles across the war-ravaged country, according to sources.

At least 200 people have been killed and 500 wounded in Basra battles since Tuesday, a high-ranking Iraqi security official said. More than 100 had been killed in Baghdad as of Sunday, with another 100-plus killed in clashes in other cities in southern Iraq, Iraqi authorities said.

The mood Monday on the streets in Basra was quiet, said al-Askari, the prime minister's spokesman. Shops opened in the morning, and the movement of people was almost back to normal in the center of town.

Troops and police, whom the U.S. and Britain have backed, are in control of much of Basra, and local security forces are going house-to-house in some districts to confiscate weapons and chase "the outlaws and the criminal and smuggling gangs," the spokesman said.

The Shiite militia members that were in the streets have withdrawn, al-Askari said.

There had been an all-day curfew in Basra during the operation. It was lifted Saturday, and the normal curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in place.

The fighting in Basra spread to other southern cities, such as Kut, Karbala and Diwaniya, and it raged in Shiite regions of Baghdad.

Authorities in Baghdad also reported a quieter situation in the capital, where there have been no reports of clashes, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

There were several instances of "indirect fire" in the International Zone, formerly known as the Green Zone, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries. Indirect fire is a reference to rocket and mortar fire, and the U.S. military suspects hard-line Shiite militants stage such attacks.

Authorities in Baghdad eased a stiff, citywide curfew Monday, but a vehicle ban remained in place in Sadr City, Shula and Kadhimiya -- three neighborhoods seen as al-Sadr strongholds. The usual 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in place citywide.

Mohammed, the Iraqi commander, also said the situation was quiet in other southern cities where fighting had been reported.

In issuing his call to end fighting, al-Sadr demanded the Iraqi government provide amnesty to his followers and release any supporters who were being held.

Al-Sadr suspended the operations of the Mehdi Army in August, and the cease-fire is credited with helping decrease the violence in Iraq over the last few months.

Other developments


• Kidnappers have released Tahseen Sheikhly, the Iraqi civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, four days after his abduction, his family told Iraqi authorities Monday. Sheikhly was seized Thursday at his home by dozens of gunmen, who killed three of his bodyguards and burned down the house, Iraqi authorities said.

• The U.S. military on Monday announced the deaths of two American soldiers. A Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldier was killed Monday in northeastern Baghdad, when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. A U.S. soldier died Saturday from wounds suffered in a roadside bomb attack south of Baghdad March 23. The deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in March to 38. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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