In Iraq, Shiite militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr seized control of the southern city of Amarah briefly Friday, after hours of fighting with local police.
The Iraqi government and Sadr's group rushed emergency delegations to the city, and a curfew was imposed. Sadr's militiamen have reportedly withdrawn -- and Amarah, north of Basra, is now described as calm but tense.
Television images showed men wearing black masks firing into the air in the streets of Amarah. Behind them local police stations smoldered and black smoke filled the sky. The fighting between Sadr's militia and local police was sparked by the killing earlier this week of the local intelligence chief, who was said to belong to a rival militia that has infiltrated the region's police.
After the killing, police in Amarah arrested the local head of the Sadr militia, prompting the Shiite gunmen to take to the streets.
Gun battles raged throughout the city late Thursday, leaving at least nine people dead. This morning, Sadr's militia moved in strength, burning down police stations, freeing prisoners, and ordering Amarah residents to remain indoors. The police retreated.
The British army, which is responsible for the area, says it has a unit on standby should the Iraqi government request help -- but otherwise, it won't get involved. A British spokesman told reporters Friday that 10 policemen and 15 militiamen were killed in the fighting.
Late today, Sadr's representatives in Amarah ordered their militiamen to abandon the checkpoints they'd set up and return to their homes.
Since the beginning of this year, the U.S. military has said reining in sectarian militias was crucial to restoring security and calm to Iraq. Ten months later, the militias only seem to have become even more powerful.