Dozens Dead in Basra Clashes; Mahdi Army Occupies Kut

There was heavy fighting Wednesday and Thursday morning in the Jumhuriya district of the southern oil port of Basra. That is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, now under assault by the Iraqi military, with rocket propelled grenades, mortars and small arms fire raining down on the civilian neighborhood.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the Mahdi Army still controls its neighborhoods in Basra. It says that there are reports that rival militiamen, presumably the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, have converged on the Sadrist neighborhoods and have joined the fight against the Mahdi Army side by side with government troops.

Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrists, demanded that Prime Minister al-Maliki leave Basra so that local notables and clergy could negotiate a settlement of the crisis. That was his reply to al-Maliki’s ultimatum that the Mahdi Army disarm within three days.

A Sadrist leader told al-Zaman, “The objective of the operations in Basra is to impose a provincial confederacy on the south, which the Sadr Movement opposes.”

Al-Zaman says that an attempt to negotiate a political settlement by Basra governor Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili of the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) failed in the face of al-Maliki’s insistence on a military victory.

Al-Zaman says reports are circulating that the Iraqi army has committed atrocities throughout the south, conducting mass executions in many places, including Basra and Kut.

It also says that there is a humanitarian crisis developing in the neighborhoods that the Iraqi army is besieging in Basra, with women, children and old folks trapped and food and potable water running low.

The Mahdi Army still controls Sadr City in East Baghdad and the US is unable to dislodge it for the moment. Al-Zaman says that the capital could erupt into fighting at any moment.

AFP reports one underlying reason for the assault:

‘ US military spokesman Major General Kevin Bergner told a news conference on Wednesday that 2,000 extra Iraqi security forces had been sent to Basra for the operation. He said it was aimed at improving security in the city ahead of provincial elections in October. ‘

Remember how attacking Fallujah in Nov. of 2004 was to provide security before the elections, but all it did was convince the Sunni Arabs to boycott, thus throwing the country into civil war?

The Mahdi Army is fighting vigorously against the assault on its strongholds in Basra. It set a roadside bomb to hit the convoy of the city’s police chief, killing three policemen. There are rumors that it blew up a bridge to stop government reinforcements from getting into the city easily. And then there is this:

Gunmen blew up an oil pipeline in Basra province. Such sabotage of the pipelines down there is rare, in contrast to the situation in the north around Kirkuk. But if the Sadrists feel unfairly attacked by the government, they clearly are willing to play spoiler, just as some Sunni Arabs have in the north.

As it is, if the fighting goes on a few more days, the next shift of oil workers won’t be able to reach the fields, which will shut down some production. Basra fields produce between 1.8 million b/d and 2 mn b/d, and export 1.5 mn b/d. The Iraqi government is heavily dependent on that income.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the Mahdi Army has taken over the southern city of Kut, and has surrounded the governor’s mansion, trapping the remaining government police in it.

Aljazeera English on the internal divisions among the Shiite factions (from Monday):

McClatchy reports civil war violence in Iraq for Wednesday:

‘ Baghdad

At least 20 people were killed and 115 wounded in clashes that broke out on Tuesday evening and lasted until Wednesday morning between Mahdi army militia and the Iraqis security forces supported by the American forces in Sadr city in east Baghdad.

US embassy in Iraqi said that three US officials were wounded seriously in one of the attacks that targeted the green zone on Wednesday morning.

Around 5:30 a.m. three mortar shells hit the green zone. No reports about casualties.

Around 8:00 a.m. the US forces left Sadr city after clashing with Mahdi army. The final toll of the casualties is 20 people killed and 115 wounded.

Five people were injured when members of Mahdi army opened fire targeting civilians in al Kifah neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 8:30 a.m.

Six people were injured when members of Mahdi army opened fire targeting civilians in Sadoun Street in downtown Baghdad around 9:00 a.m.

Around 9:15 a.m. three mortar shells hit the green zone. A fourth shell hit one of the buildings in Salhiyah street near the green zone. One civilians was killed and 6 others wounded.

Two civilians were wounded in an IED explosion in al Fallah intersection in Sadr city in E|ast Baghdad around 11:00 a.m.

Three civilians were killed and fifteen others were wounded when four mortar shells hit different parts in Karrada neighborhood.

Three civilians were killed and twelve others were wounded when threemortar shells hit Risala neighborhood southeast Baghdad around 12:00 p.m.

Around 1:00 p.m. mortar shells hit the green zone in downtown Baghdad. No reports about Casualties.

Two civilians were killed and five others were wounded when two mortar shells hit Sayd Idrees shrine and the social car house in Karrada neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 1;30 p.m.

Four civilians were inured in clashes between insurgents and the Iraqi national police in Shaab neighborhood in north Baghdad around 1:30 p.m.

Around 2:00 p.m. clashes broke out between the Iraqi army and members of Mahdi army in Kadhemiyah neighborhood in North Baghdad. No casualties were reported.

Around 3:00 p.m. mortar shells hit the green zone. No casualties reported.

Four civilians were wounded when a mortar shell hit Beirut intersection in east Baghdad around 3:00 p.m.

Three civilians were wounded in an IED explosion in Darwish intersection in Saidiyah neighborhood in South Baghdad around 3:00 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a mortar shell hit Kadhemiyah neighborhood in north Baghdad. No Casualties reported.

Clashes broke out between the US army and Mahdi army militia in jisr Diyala area south of Baghdad. No news about casualties reported. . .

Police found three unidentified bodies . . .

Tikrit

A source in Tikrit hospital said that a patrol from the 1st battalion the 14 brigade brought the body of Mohammed Shakir Mahmoud who died after being tortured by a US sponsored militia near al Mamlaha village east of Samara on Wednesday morning.

Eight people were killed including Judge Munaf al Azawi a court judge and his two sons, two women, a child and a man when U.S. soldiers raided two houses in al Qadisiyah neighborhood north of Tikrit, Iraqi police said. The US military said that the Coalition Forces were targeting an Al Qaida member suspected of organizing car bombs for the group. During the targeted raid they came under fire and responded. . . .

Basra

Medical source in Basra province south of Baghdad said that 33 people were killed and 150 others were wounded in the clashes that took place between the Iraqi security forces and Mahdi army in different neighborhoods of the province.

Four policemen were killed when their vehicle was targeted with RBG7 rocket near Basra police directorate on Wednesday afternoon. . .

At least seven detainees were wounded when mortar shells hit the detainees affairs department in downtown Basra on Wednesday afternoon.

Najaf

A mortar shell hit al Mujtaba police station in downtown Najaf city south of Baghdad around 8:15 p.m. causing casualties among the staff of the police station, police said. The police of Najaf announced a curfew in the city until further notice. . .

Two policemen were wounded when gunmen opened fire targeting al Mujtaba police station in downtown Najaf city on Wednesday evening

Babil

At least 60 people were killed and wounded when the MNF helicopters bombed the neighborhoods of al Askari and Nadir in Babil province south of Baghdad, the spokesman the Iraqi police in Babil province Muthanna Ahmed said. The MNF couldn’t immediately confirm the strike. ‘