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Sources: Iran helped prod al-Sadr cease-fire

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday.

Haidar al-Abadi, who is with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down.

News of Iran's involvement in the cease-fire talks came as an al-Maliki spokesman said operations targeting "outlaws" in the Shiite stronghold of Basra would end when the mission's goals were achieved. Earlier, al-Maliki spokesman Sami al-Askari said the operation would be over by week's end, but he later recanted on the timetable.

The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held.

The lawmakers hoped to convince Iran to cut off aid to Shiite militias and to persuade al-Sadr to end the fighting. Negotiations were difficult, but the delegation achieved its aims, al-Abadi said. Video Watch how the cease-fire affects Shiite vs. Shiite fights »

News of the delegation's role comes a day after Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh firmly denied there had been any direct or indirect talks between the government and al-Sadr's representatives in Najaf, where al-Sadr's headquarters is located.

Al-Dabbagh made no mention of the Iran meeting but said the government welcomes efforts by politicians to end the bloodshed in Iraq.

Iran's exact involvement in the negotiations is unclear, but two sources concur that the Islamic republic played a key role.

While al-Abadi said Iranian officials participated in the discussions, another source close to the talks said the Iranians pressured al-Sadr to craft an agreement.

Al-Sadr and some Shiite parties have close ties to Iran, a Shiite-dominated country. The talks were the latest reflection of the influence Iran wields in Iraq, where about 60 percent of the population is Shiite.

As for the operations targeting outlaws in Basra, Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed, commander of operations for Iraq's Ministry of Defense, told reporters at a news conference that he hoped the mission would be brief and limited. He provided no timetable.

More than 400 people have died since early last week in battles across the war-ravaged country, according to sources.

At least 200 people have been killed and 500 wounded in Basra battles since Tuesday, a high-ranking Iraqi security official said. More than 100 had been killed in Baghdad as of Sunday, with another 100-plus killed in clashes in other cities in southern Iraq, Iraqi authorities said.

The mood Monday on the streets in Basra was quiet, said al-Askari, the prime minister's spokesman. Shops opened in the morning, and the movement of people was almost back to normal in the center of town.

Troops and police, whom the U.S. and Britain have backed, are in control of much of Basra, and local security forces are going house-to-house in some districts to confiscate weapons and chase "the outlaws and the criminal and smuggling gangs," the spokesman said.

The Shiite militia members that were in the streets have withdrawn, al-Askari said.

There had been an all-day curfew in Basra during the operation. It was lifted Saturday, and the normal curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in place.

The fighting in Basra spread to other southern cities, such as Kut, Karbala and Diwaniya, and it raged in Shiite regions of Baghdad.

Authorities in Baghdad also reported a quieter situation in the capital, where there have been no reports of clashes, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

There were several instances of "indirect fire" at the area commonly known as the Green Zone, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries. Indirect fire is a reference to rocket and mortar fire, and the U.S. military suspects that hard-line Shiite militants stage such attacks.

Authorities in Baghdad eased a stiff, citywide curfew on Monday, but a vehicle ban remained in place in Sadr City, Shula and Kadhimiya -- three neighborhoods seen as al-Sadr strongholds. The usual 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in place citywide.

Mohammed, the Iraqi commander, also said the situation was quiet in other southern cities where fighting had been reported.

In issuing his call to end fighting, al-Sadr demanded that the Iraqi government provide amnesty to his followers and release any supporters who were being held.

Al-Sadr suspended the operations of the Mehdi Army in August, and the cease-fire is credited with helping decrease the violence in Iraq over the last few months.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have continued to target Shiite militants who ignored the cease-fire, and the al-Sadr movement had complained before this upsurge in fighting that it was being unfairly targeted.

U.S. and British forces have supported Iraqi troops with airstrikes and shelling in Basra as well as reconnaissance and intelligence, military officials with the U.S.-led coalition have said. U.S. troops also have conducted raids and engaged in gunbattles with militia fighters alongside Iraqi troops.

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