Saturday, March 29, 2008
. . . American aircraft launched air strikes in Basra yesterday and fought militiamen on the streets in Baghdad while British advisers have also been assisting Iraqi troops in Basra.According to CNN:
Mr Maliki retreated from his demand that militiamen hand over their weapons by yesterday and extended the deadline to 8 April. This is a tacit admission that the Iraqi army and police have failed to oust the Mehdi Army from any of its strongholds in the capital and in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army has either met stubborn resistance from Mehdi Army fighters or soldiers and police have refused to fight or changed sides. "We did not expect the fight to be this intense," said the officer from a 300-strong commando unit that has been pinned down in the Tamimiyah district in Basra, where the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army, have strong support.
The officer said four of his men were killed and 15 wounded in the fighting. "Some of the men told me that they did not want to go back to the fight until they have better support and more protection," he added. The Interior Ministry threatened that the men would be court-martialled for refusing to fight. Government troops arriving in Basra complain that they are being fired on by local police loyal to Mr Sadr. Members of one police unit had fist fights with their officers after they refused to join the battle.
The failure of Mr Maliki to make good his threat so far to eliminate the Mehdi Army and growing signs of dissent in army units is damaging his authority, "It is possible that Muqtada and the Mehdi Army will emerge from this crisis stronger than they were before," warned one Iraqi politician who did not want his name published.
A closely held U.S. military intelligence analysis of the fighting in Basra shows that Iraqi security forces control less than a quarter of the city, according to officials in both the United States and Iraq, and Basra's police units are deeply infiltrated by members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.
Why are the US and the Maliki government attacking Sadr now? Perhaps, the effort to pass and implement an oil law friendly to transnationals has something to do with it? Sadr, as you might have guessed, opposes it because he believes that it would reward the US and the British for the invasion and occupation by directing contracts to US and British oil companies.
A Reuters reporter in Nassiriya, capital of Dhi Qar province, said he could see groups of fighters with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The sound of sporadic gunfire echoed through the streets. Police appeared to be staying in their stations, he said.
Militants have also taken control of the town of Shatra, 40 km to the north, he said, citing witnesses.