BASRA, Iraq, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- About 40 people were killed Friday in fighting between a radical Shiite fringe group and Iraqi forces as the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura began.
Northern Iraq remained calm. But Moqtada al-Sadr hinted he is considering an end to a freeze on attacks by his followers, The New York Times reported.
"Many officers in the Iraqi police and Army and have made bad use of the freeze to pressure our people and hundreds of families have been pushed out of their homes," said Saleh al-Obeidi, a spokesman for Sadr. "We've been thinking of renewing the freeze. We understand the situation, we are in a period of trying to rebuild Iraq and bring more security, but unfortunately our people are suffering."
In Basra, the Soldiers of Heaven launched an attack on security forces, the Iraqi police said. The fight left 30 members of the group and three police officers dead.
Eight people were killed in Nasariyah. Local police said one of the dead was Brigadier Naji Rustum, head of the quick reaction force in the area.
Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, son of Imam Ali. In past years, the holiday has been a time of increased sectarian violence in Iraq.