Violence part of last week's Shiite conflict

BASRA — The studios of public television channel Al-Iraqiya were ransacked and torched amid the violence that engulfed the southern Iraq oil city of Basra last week, although there were no immediate reports of casualties among staff.

Al-Iraqiya is part of the Iraqi Media Network and is often accused of being a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The violence erupted when al-Maliki ordered his security forces on March 25 to launch operations against the Mahdi Army militia of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, claiming the militamen had become lawless and were intimidating residents.

The fighting quickly spread to Mahdi Army bastions in Baghdad as well as in the Shiite cities of Kut, Nasiriyah, Hilla and Karbala.

By the time Sadr ordered his fighters off the streets on March 30 after striking a peace deal with Maliki, also a Shiite, at least 460 people had been killed and more than 600 wounded.

According to Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, Mahdi Army militants also set fire to the home of Bashir Thaaban, an Iraqi public radio exec in Kut, 110 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, said Ahmed Mahmud Hassan, a reporter for satcaster al-Sumariya, was arrested by the Iraqi authorities while covering clashes between Iraqi forces and insurgents on March 30 at Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

“He is thought to be detained in a military base. A score of journalists have been arrested across Iraq since the start of 2008,” the watchdog said. “Arbitrary arrest has become commonplace in Iraq. The Iraqi authorities must stop this growing obstruction to the work of the media.”

Maliki and Sadr are locked in a standoff for the control of Iraq’s Shiite majority, especially in oil-rich Basra province, ahead of provincial elections due in October.

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