On Tuesday morning, major clashes broke out between government security forces and local Basra militias (including the Mahdi Army) that sent black smoke billowing in the air above the oil port. A strict curfew was imposed and schools were closed. Reuters reports:
‘ “Basra is half empty. There are no vehicles and no one is going to work. People are afraid to go out,” said a military official in the city, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A hospital source said “tens of wounded” were arriving at hospitals and that some were too busy to accept more casualties. ‘
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Sadr Movement announced a “civil disobedience” campaign on Monday in every region of Iraq. The Sadr Movement follows Shiite cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. The movement is complaining that the government continues to target is supporters.
McClatchy reports of Baghdad:
‘ On Monday, the Sadrists all but shut down the neighborhoods they control on the west bank of Baghdad. Gunmen went to stores and ordered them to close as militiamen stood in the streets. Mosques used their loudspeakers to urge people to come forward and join the protest.
Fliers were distributed with the Sadrists’ three demands of the Iraqi government: to release detainees, stop targeting Sadrist members and apologize to the families and the tribal sheiks of the men. ‘
On Monday Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in Basra at the head of a big security force, at the beginning of the major security sweep of that city that produced Tuesday’s fighting.
It is being rumored, al-Hayat says, that the prime minister is planning to remove the military commander in the city, Gen. Mohan Hafiz al-Furayji, as well as the police chief, Major-Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf. UPI says that he will attempt to institute a tighter command and control structure in the city. Although the US had been putting pressure on Britain to send some of its troops from the airport back into Basra city, Gordon Brown appears to have resisted Washington’s blandishments in this regard. The US military is concerned that if security collapses in Basra, it could cause the center-north to unravel, as well (this calculation is correct).