Al Zaman Shiite Clashes With British

Al-Zaman: Shiite Clashes with British in
South As Security Deteriorates
Grand Ayatollah al-Najafi calls for
withdrawal of foreign troops

Al-Zaman reports that the security situation in southern Iraq “exploded” on Wednesday. Fighting broke out between local militiamen and British forces in the provinces of Basra, Amara and Diwaniyah. Informed government sources told al-Zaman that the Shiite religious parties have formed lobbies to pressure the Maliki government over its attampts to establish security in all the cities of Iraq. The sources suggest that the military escalation coincided with the exceptional backing Maliki’s government has received from the Bush administration.

The sources say that the pressure of these lobbies for the religious parties with militias in the south even reached the grand ayatollahs in Najaf. The Pakistani cleric Bashir al-Najafi warned of the possible eruption of a popular revolution if the government did not address the pressing issues [of security] and the problem of services. His office issued a statement in which the grand ayatollahs said, “We fear the coming of a day when we cannot restrain a revolution of the people, with all its unsavory consequences.” He said that the Iraqi government must take over security altogether from the foreign forces in Iraq.

Al-Zaman says that al-Najafi would not speak out on these political issues on his own, and that his remarks almost certainly reflect a consensus among the four grand ayatollahs of Najaf (among whom Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is first among equals.)

The sources said that fighting broke out on Wednesday between the Mahdi Army and British troops in the eastern section of Amara (the districts of Mahmudiyah, al-Saray and Hayy al-Husayn). They said that the Mahdi Army fighters deployed anti-tank missiles against 15 British tanks, after there had been a notable spreading out of Jaysh Mahdi fighters through the city.

Mahdi Army guerrillas in Basra shot anti-tank missiles at British tanks. In Diwaniyah, gunmen bombarded Lake Echo and the Coaltion forces stationed there.

President Bush cited the improved security in the Shiite south of the country (the British have withdrawn from Muthanna) as a sign of progress during his joint news conference in Washington with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Men dressed in police uniforms went into an apartment building in downtown Baghdad and kidnapped 17 persons, including 5 women and 2 children. Typically such abductions are part of faith-based reprisals in the Sunni-Shiite civil war.

Reuters reports civil war violence on Wednesday. In addition, 5 bodies showed up dead in the streets of Baghdad and a general in the Interior Ministry was abducted. The Interior Ministry is in charge of providing domestic security.

Robert Reid of AP sees another confrontation building between Coalition troops and the Mahdi Army of young Shiite clerical nationalist, Muqtada al-Sadr.

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