BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Police set up roadblocks Thursday around the oil-rich southern city of Basra as a monthlong state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went into effect.

Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli said army troops and police fanned out around Iraq’s second-largest city as part of a crackdown on rampant violence that has increased in recent weeks as rival Shiite militias fight each other for power.

“The emergency plan was implemented last night. Army and police were deployed in large numbers,” al-Waeli said.

Besides a curfew, the state of emergency broadens police powers in the city 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. Although curfews exist in other cities where violence is rampant, including the capital, Basra is the only one where a state of emergency is in effect.

Al-Waeli said a security committee was set up that includes three members of the provincial council and the leaders of the police and army. A weapons buyback plan is also being considered for the city’s heavily armed residents.

“We will ask the prime minister if we can to buy all the weapons in the possession of tribes and other people in return for an amount of money to encourage them to hand them over, and not to use them against security forces,” Iraqi army Brig. Jalil Khalaf said.

Tensions have been worsening in the Shiite-dominated area, where Britain has about 8,000 soldiers, and mostly Shiite militias have been attacking Sunni Arabs and each other.

Iran’s hand also is rumored to be behind Shiite militias in Basra, although little evidence of a direct link has been made public.

U.S. officials have long accused the Iranians – though not necessarily the Tehran government – of smuggling weapons to Shiite militias in Basra.

In the months after the 2003 invasion, British troops enjoyed relative peace in southern Iraq compared with the restive Sunni regions further north.

The state of emergency was welcomed by the Basra representative of the influential Sunni Arab Association of Muslim Scholars.

“Basra is a very important city,” Youssif al-Hassan said. “We are all behind this good initiative.”



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