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US sends in back-up for Iraqi offensive

President George W. Bush called the Iraqi offensive in Basra a “defining moment” on Friday as violence continued to spread across the country.

“This happens to be one of the provinces where the Iraqis are in the lead…and this is a good test for them,” Mr Bush said.

Coalition forces sent in reinforcements as the Iraqi security forces admitted having difficulties subduing the radical Shia militants in the south of the country. The support included the first air strikes on Basra since the Iraqi operation began four days ago.

“We supposed that this would be a normal operation but we were surprised by this resistance,” Abd al-Qader Jassim, the Iraqi defence minister, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has stressed that the operation is targeting “lawless gangs” in the southern port city of Basra, but fighting has spread to other cities. Members of the Madhi Army, a group of Shia militants loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have staged solidarity attacks.

Militias appeared to have seized

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