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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maliki Extends Olive Branch to Insurgents

BAGHDAD -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday told insurgents to accept an olive branch or face a security crackdown that will cover every inch of Iraq.

The U.S. military said it was preparing to set up a security outpost in the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City in the very near future, in what will be a test of Iraqi and U.S. determination to tackle one of the toughest areas of Baghdad.

Maliki also said he might announce a long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle within two weeks. He is expected to replace under-performing ministers in a revamp he has promised for months.

Speaking at a conference aimed at speeding up reconciliation among Iraq's warring factions, Maliki said political consensus could be achieved only in a stable Iraq.

Maliki has been pleased with the early results of a U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad called Operation Imposing Law. The offensive has reduced sectarian death squad killings although car bombings are still common.

"We do not need to implement security measures except against those who reject the language of reconciliation and dialogue, those who insist on restoring the past," Maliki said, in a reference to Sunni Arab insurgents loyal to Saddam Hussein.

"We present in our hand a green olive branch, and in the other hand we present the law. ... Operation Imposing Law started in Baghdad, and it will cover every inch of Iraq."

Shiite officials have said his government could collapse if the crackdown fails to put a brake on sectarian violence. U.S. commanders say it will take months to see concrete results.

Maliki, a Shiite, has pledged to tackle Shiite militias as vigorously as Sunni insurgents, although some Sunni leaders are skeptical and accuse him of being half-hearted in attempts to placate minority Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Hussein.

The prime minister did not say whether insurgents who stopped fighting would be given an amnesty.

An Iraqi police source said security forces were beginning to set up checkpoints around the edge of Sadr City, a stronghold of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is a key political ally of Maliki.

How the plan is implemented in Sadr City is being closely watched as a test of Maliki's willingness to be even-handed.

U.S. military spokesman Captain Curtis Kellogg said a joint security station with Iraqi and U.S. forces would be established in Sadr City soon.

"The plans are in the works to have that in there in the very near future so we have some people working in and out of there," he said, when asked about reports of operations in Sadr City on Sunday.

In a news conference, Maliki said Cabinet changes might be unveiled "either this week or next." He gave no hints about whom he would replace in his Cabinet, which is mostly made up of members of Shiite, ethnic Kurd and Sunni Arab parties.

U.S. commanders say the aim of the Baghdad push is to create a "breathing space" to allow politicians to reach a consensus.