Iraq's new prime minister declared a state of emergency Wednesday in the southern city of Basra, vowing to crack down with an "iron fist" on rival gangs battling each other for power.
Violence has been escalating in Shiite-dominated Basra, with a wave of kidnappings and the slayings of nearly 140 people mostly Sunnis but also Shiites and police in May alone, police said. The tension has been brewing largely due to the growing influence of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, and the armed Badr organization, both Shiite groups.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, declared the monthlong state of emergency during a visit to the oil-rich region, said Syed Muhammad al-Haidari, a top Shiite official traveling with him. Al-Maliki gave a strong denunciation of the violence that Sunni religious leaders have blamed on Shiite death squads.
"We shall use an iron fist against the leaders of the gangs or those who threaten security," he said earlier in a speech, apparently referring to the militias as well as rival tribal groups. "And we shall ask all security departments to draw up an effective and quick plan to achieve security.
"The size of the security power in this province as far as I know should be sufficient to maintain full control of the security situation, but it seems that these forces are useless with the deteriorating of the security situation in this town," he told about 700 tribal sheiks, religious leaders, officials, army officers and other residents.
It is the only state of emergency in effect, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Major-General Ahmed Al-Khafaji said from Basra. Other cities, including Baghdad and Ramadi, have curfews.
Meanwhile, a parked car packed with explosives hit a police patrol in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Wednesday, killing at least five policemen and wounding 14, including a senior officer, as violence continued unabated after one of the bloodiest days in recent weeks.
Elsewhere, Jamal Kadhim Hassoun al-Zamili, former governor of Diwaniyah city south of Baghdad, was killed in a drive-by shooting late Tuesday that also wounded two of his guards, police Capt. Ali Hussein said.
In other recent developments in Iraq:
A bomb hidden in an air conditioner exploded in the mayor's office in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing the mayor, Sheik Allaywi Farhan al-Dulaimi, a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, and wounding three of his guards, police said. Provincial Gov. Raad Rashid al-Mula Jawad imposed a curfew on the city and deployed Iraqi army forces there.
Gunmen killed a Shiite muazzin, the man who calls for the five daily prayers, as he was leaving his house to go to the Imam Ali Mosque in southwestern Baghdad, Hussein said.
A roadside bomb also hit a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol on the highway near the Dora Refinery in southern Baghdad and the area was blocked off, police Capt. Firas Geiti said. No casualties were immediately reported.
It wasn't clear if there were any casualties among the troops.
At least 17 bodies were found in separate locations in Baghdad, many blindfolded and handcuffed, apparent victims of sectarian killings often blamed on militias.
The new violence came a day after car bombs targeting Shiite areas tore through a car dealership in southern Iraq and a bustling outdoor market north of Baghdad as attacks nationwide killed 54 people and wounded 120.
Mitch Mitchell, a CBS News military analyst, says "the insurgents are the ones who are pretty much in control out here and a lot of people are saying that."
"We expect the Iraqi security forces to help, but they're not yet. They're not ready yet," Mitchell said on The Early Show.
Tuesday's worst bombing hit the market as Iraqis were doing their evening shopping in the Shiite area of Husseiniyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. At least 25 people were killed and 65 were wounded, Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Colonel Falah Al-Mohamedawi said.
Before Tuesday's violence, at least 4,066 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence so far in 2006 and at least 4,469 wounded based on Associated Press reports, which may not be complete because the reporting process does not cover the entire country.
According to the Iraqi Minister of Defense there were more than 700 attacks in the last week alone, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports. And CBS News National Security correspondent David Martin reports that in a new report by the Pentagon there are over 600 average weekly attacks on Americans and Iraqis.
During May, at least 871 Iraqis have been killed, surpassing the 801 killed in April. The deadliest month this year for Iraqis has been March, with 1,038 killed and 1,155 wounded.