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Published:April 18th, 2008 09:56 EST
Shi'ite office in Basra surrounded by Iraqi troops

Shi'ite office in Basra surrounded by Iraqi troops

By SOP newswire

Iraqi troops have cordoned off the Basra office of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's followers, preventing them from holding Friday prayers.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said the operation is only aimed at recovering offices he said were unfairly occupied by political groups.

Sadr supporters say they have been given 48 hours to leave the premises.

There were no immediate reports of fighting between Iraqi troops and Sadr followers.

The standoff comes nearly a month after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a crackdown against Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Basra, sparking violent clashes across cities in the south and in the capital, Baghdad.

Sadr called his militia off the streets of Basra last month, ushering in a period of relative calm. The focus of more recent fighting has been the east Baghdad slum of Sadr city.

In northern Iraq, a suicide bomber Thursday targeted a funeral near Kirkuk, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 20 in one of the deadliest attacks in recent months.

Also on Thursday, a militant Web site posted an audio message said to be from al-Qaida's second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the message titled "five years of the invasion of Iraq and decades of injustice by tyrants" he criticizes the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.