37 Killed in Turkish-Kurdish Fighting inside Iraq; Basra Instability Forces British to Postpone Departure

Turkish military land and air operations inside northern Iraq left 35 PKK guerrillas dead on Saturday, and two Turkish soldiers.

The PKK warned that it would blow up people in Turkish cities if the Turkish army did not withdraw. This threat would be more impressive if they hadn’t already been blowing up people in Turkish cities.

Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself an Iraqi Kurd, said of the operation, “if it goes on, I think it could destabilise the region, because really one mistake could lead to further escalation.”

As if to prove Zebari’s point, the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, warned the Turks of large-scale resistance if they advanced toward populated areas.

Aljazeera English has video:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the governor of Basra, Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili, has charged the Iranian deputy consul in that city of plotting his, al-Wa’ili’s, assassination. He demanded that the central government look into the charges. He said that the Iranian consulate gave a large sum of money to one of his body guards to discover his exact itinerary.

Al-Wa’ili is from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), and is at loggerheads with a majority of members of his own provincial council, including members of the Basra Islamic List and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. He claims he has been the target of numerous assassination attempts and hints that Iran was behind them.

The Islamic Virtue Party is a splinter of the Sadr Movement of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999), which does not recognized Muqtada al-Sadr. The Islamic Virtue Party is a Muslim fundamentalist party but is Iraqi nativist, i.e. it does not like Iranian infulence in Iraq.

Among Fadhila’s major rivals is the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), with its own paramilitary, the Badr Corps. So al-Wa’ili’s charges have something to do with his rivalry with ISCI.

The instability in Basra is so bad that a planned drawdown of British troops from 4700 to 2500 by March seems likely to be postponed. The Guardian Observer writes,

‘In an unusually frank analysis, Colonel Richard Iron, military mentor to the Iraqi commander General Mohan al-Furayji, said ‘There’s an uneasy peace between the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] on the one hand and the militias on the other. There is a sense in the ISF that confrontation is inevitable. They are training and preparing for the battle ahead. General Mohan says that the US won the battle for Baghdad, the US is going win the battle for Mosul, but Iraqis will have to win the battle for Basra.’ ‘

Gen. Mohan wants to have the back-up of British helicopter gunships and armor when the big anti-militia campaign is launched.

The article also says that “there is no one in charge” in Basra and that the militias actually exclude the army from some parts of the city!

‘ Asked who runs the city now, Iron, who has been in Basra since December, said: ‘There’s no one in charge. The unwritten rules of the game are there are areas where the army can and can’t go and areas where JAM [Jaysh al-Mahdi or the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr] can and can’t take weapons.’ ‘

The problem for Iraq is that whereas Baghdad or even Mosul can be subjected to a vigorous military campaign without that causing the country to collapse, I am not sanguine that Basra can survive a frontal assault and still remain Iraq’s import-export entrepot. And, if Basra is depopulated or sent into a spiral of violence similar to the Sunni Arab areas of the north, it will not hold Iraq harmless.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq for Saturday:

‘Baghdad

– Around 7 a.m. mortar shells slammed into the Green Zone. A U.S. State Department spokesman in Baghdad confirmed the attack and said there were no deaths, injuries or significant damage due to the attack.

– Gunmen shot Shihab Al Timimi, the Iraqi journalists syndicate chief. He was injured in an area close to the syndicate’s headquarters in Al Waziriyah.

– Around 2 p.m. a roadside bomb targeted civilians in Beirut square, killing one civilian and injuring two others.

– Iraqi police found three bodies, one in Shaab, one in Al Qanat area and one in Saidiyah.

Al Anbar

– Around 11 a.m. three suicide bombers wearing vest bombs targeted Ibraheem Teeri, a tribal sheikh, in Al Shiha town north of Fallujah, killing Teeri and two policemen. . . [The attack was on a training center for Awakening Council members.]

Salahuddin

– Around 9 a.m. a roadside bomb exploded in front of Nouri Khalil’s house, a member of Beiji city local council. It killed Khalil’s wife and son.

– Around 2 p.m. a roadside bomb targeted Iraqi police vehicle on a highway south of Samarra, killing two police officers and injuring three others.

– Iraqi police today on the Tigris River near Samarra chased a suicide bomber in a boat. The bomber was wearing a vest bomb and he detonated himself before the police could arrest him.’

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