Bomb explodes near top Iraq generals in Basra

BASRA, Iraq Wed Apr 2, 2008 2:25pm EDT

1 of 4. Residents riding a motorcycle look at a burnt Iraqi armoured vehicle that was destroyed during clashes in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, April 2, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Atef Hassan

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - A roadside bomb exploded near a convoy carrying Iraqi generals in a Shi'ite militia stronghold in the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, but the officials were unhurt, one of the officers said.

Major-General Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman for Iraq's Defence Ministry, said he was in a convoy with Basra's security chief, Lieutenant-General Mohan al-Firaiji, when the blast went off in the Hayaniya neighborhood.

The neighborhood is a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and was the scene of major clashes last week between security forces and militiamen.

"It was a roadside bomb. It exploded near our vehicles but nothing happened to myself or Firaiji," Askari told Reuters after the blast.

An Iraqi television correspondent was wounded in the leg, Askari said, adding that he might have been hit by a bullet.

There were reports of sporadic clashes in Basra on Wednesday, but Askari denied there had been any fresh fighting.

Hundreds of people were killed and many more wounded in last week's fighting after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shi'ite militiamen in Basra. Sadr ordered his fighters off the streets on Sunday.

One witness said he had earlier heard Iraqi army loudspeakers ordering people to close their shops and to stay at home in Hayaniya. He then heard explosions and gunfire.

Overall, Basra was relatively calm for a third straight day on Wednesday.

Many experts say the crackdown backfired by exposing the army's weakness and reinforcing Sadr's support base. During the fighting, the defense minister acknowledged his troops were surprised by the ferocity of the militia resistance.

Maliki on Tuesday declared the military operation a success.

(Reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra, Waleed Ibrahim and Aseel Kami in Baghdad; Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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