BASRA, Iraq -- Iraq's prime minister declared a state of emergency yesterday in once-peaceful and oil-rich Basra, as the sectarian and militia violence engulfing the country's capital spread to its southern economic heartland.
In his first major policy speech since his government was sworn in May 20, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to restore security in Iraq as attacks around the country claimed 25 lives and wounded dozens.
``We shall use an iron fist against the leaders of the gangs or those who threaten security," he said, 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."
Maliki promised to crack down on sectarian gangs in Basra and declared a monthlong state of emergency, which broadens arrest powers for Iraqi security services and establishes an evening curfew.
It was the only state of emergency in effect across Iraq, according to officials. Other cities where violence is rampant, such as Baghdad and Ramadi, have curfews.
``The state of emergency imposed in Basra for one month is made up of a group of exceptional measures imposed for a specific time by the prime minister for dealing with some events," the Interior Ministry undersecretary, Major General Ahmed Al-Khafaji, said from Basra.
He added that ``Basra is the only province in Iraq that has a state of emergency."
Tensions have been worsening in the Shi'ite-dominated area, where Britain has about 8,000 soldiers, and mostly Shi'ite militias have been attacking Sunni Arabs and battling each other.
Maliki was addressing about 700 tribal sheiks, religious leaders, officials, army officers, and other residents in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Shouting broke out in the auditorium before Maliki spoke, with several tribal leaders accusing local officials and security forces of being behind the violence. But the prime minister calmed them down from the podium, saying ``we cannot negotiate with everybody shouting."
The Shi'ite prime minister traveled to Basra with the Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi.
Both leaders said security must be restored before prosperity can return to the port city.
``There are future plans to improve Basra," Hashimi said. ``But to prepare suitable circumstances, security must be restored and that is why we are here."
Iran's hand also is rumored to be behind Shi'ite militias in Basra, although little evidence of a direct link has been made public.
US officials have long accused the Iranians -- though not necessarily the Tehran government -- of smuggling weapons to Shi'ite militias in Basra.
``Basra is no exception from what is taking place in Baghdad, Anbar, Nineveh, and Diyala," Hashimi said, referring to other volatile provinces.
``There are malignant campaigns and malignant intentions, and there are malignant agendas to deepen divisions among Iraqis," he said. ``They intend to divide the country."
In the months after the 2003 invasion, British troops enjoyed relative peace in southern Iraq compared with the restive Sunni regions farther north.
But violence in the region has escalated.
Nearly 140 people, mostly Sunnis but also Shi'ites and policemen, were killed in Basra this month alone, police Captain Mushtaq Kadhim said.
In other violence yesterday, according to police:
A mortar attack killed nine people and wounded 20 in Baghdad's Dora district.
A car bomb targeting a police patrol in Mosul killed at least five policemen and wounded 14.
Gunmen ambushed a minibus in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding three.
Jamal Kadhim Hassoun al-Zamili, former governor of Diwaniyah south of Baghdad, was killed in a drive-by shooting, while a bomb hidden in an air conditioner killed the mayor of Muqdadiyah, north of Baghdad.
A 25-year-old sportscaster for al-Iraqiya TV, Ali Jaafar, was gunned down near his home in Baghdad.
Gunmen killed a Shi'ite muazzin as he was leaving his house to go to the Imam Ali Mosque in Baghdad.
Police in the northern city of Mosul said gunmen killed two civilians and wounded another.
At least 19 bodies were found in Baghdad, many blindfolded and handcuffed, apparent victims of sectarian killings.