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Page last updated at 06:39 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 07:39 UK

Iraq launches offensive in Amara

An Iraqi soldier directs traffic in southern Iraq, 16 June 2008
Military checkpoints are in place around the southern city of Amara

Iraqi security forces backed by US troops have launched a major operation in Amara, southern Iraq, overnight to drive out Shia militia groups.

So far the situation is said to be normal and no trouble is reported.

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki had set a deadline of midnight (2100 GMT) for Shia militants around Amara to lay down their weapons.

A similar offensive in Basra in March led to weeks of fierce fighting in which hundreds were killed.

Dozens of militants have already surrendered in the city, a bastion of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

It was hoped that this latest move against the militias would succeed without any serious challenge, says a BBC correspondent in Baghdad.

Security compromises

Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said he is optimistic that a security agreement with the US will be reached by the end of July.

Iraq map

"There is more flexibility on the US side to reach an agreement that is more acceptable, reasonable both for us and for them too," said Mr Zebari.

A state department spokesman confirmed that the negotiations were making progress and that compromises were being made on both sides.

Last week, Mr Maliki had said negotiations were deadlocked.

The pacts have been at the centre of much debate, both in Iraq and the US.

The optimism seems to stem from a US willingness to show flexibility in the talks, says the BBC's US state department correspondent, Kim Ghattas.

Our correspondent says sticking points in the negotiations had been:

  • the number of bases the US would retain in Iraq after a UN mandate for foreign troops in Iraq expires on 31 December
  • whether US troops will still have the power to detain Iraqis and conduct operations independent of Iraqi control
  • whether US contractors would have immunity from prosecution in Iraq




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