CBNNews.com - WASHINGTON - The prime minister of Iraq has set a deadline for Shiite militias to disarm after violent clashes there.
Shiite fighters and Iraqi security forces have been battling in Basra and Baghdad. Now some fear the violence could unravel the security gains of the past year.
For more on the situation in Iraq, watch CBN News Terror Analyst Erick Stakelbeck, following this report.
After two days of intense fighting, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given Shiite militiamen just 72-hours to lay down their weapons.
Iraqi PM to Shiite Militia: You Got Three Days…
"Any gunman who does not do that within these three days will be an outlaw," he said.
So far, dozens have been killed in Basra and Baghdad -- and hundreds more have been wounded. Today in the heavily-fortified green zone, a mortar attack seriously injured three American government workers.
The clashes are the result of a power struggle among Shiite political factions - and Shiite militiamen, like those loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
Officially, his followers have pledged to a seven month cease fire, which has been critical to improving security over the past year.
But al Sadr is threatening nationwide "civil disobedience" if his forces continue to take on fire.
Through a statement by one of his top aides, he says the next step will not be disclosed at this time.
Will Conflict Undo Progress?
The violence is raising fears that the conflict could threaten to undo the security gains that appear to be helping Iraq find a path to recovery and progress.
In a meeting with the king of neighboring Bahrain yesterday, President Bush highlighted Iraq's headway.
"When a young democracy like Iraq is beginning to make progress… it is important for the neighborhood to recognize that progress," Bush said.
The crackdown is not only a major test for Iraq's military, in its biggest offensive ever without American or British forces by their side - it is also a test of its political will.
In a show of force, al Malaki is in Basra supervising the campaign to drive out the militiamen who took control of the city when British troops pulled out last September.