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Iraqi government offensive in Basra threatens to trigger Shiite uprising
Friday, March 28, 2008 :Fighting between Iraqi security forces, backed by the US military, and militia loyal to Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr continued unabated yesterday following a government offensive launched in the southern port city of Basra on Tuesday. Up to 200 people have been killed, many of them civilians, in clashes over the past three days in Basra, as well as the southern towns of Kut, Diwaniya, Hilla and Amara, and the sprawling slums of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad.
A great deal is at stake for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has moved to Basra to take personal charge of the operation. He has been under pressure to act against the Sadrists, not only from Washington, but from the two Shiite factions on which he rests—his own Da’wa party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). The latter in particular has been engaged in a protracted power struggle with the Sadrists across southern Iraq in preparation for provincial elections due in October.
ISCI regards the Sadrist movement as a barrier to its ambition to establish an autonomous Shiite region in southern Iraq similar to the Kurdish region in the north. The Sadrist movement, with its large base of support in Baghdad, supports a strong central government and is opposed to ISCI’s plans. Basra, which is Iraq’s second largest city, a major port and adjacent to the country’s southern oil fields, is at the centre of this rivalry.
In a statement on national TV yesterday, Maliki rejected calls by Sadrist leaders for him to leave Basra and start negotiations. “We entered this battle with determination and we will continue to the end. No retreat. No talks. No negotiations,” he declared. Maliki issued a 72-hour ultimatum on Wednesday for militiamen in Basra to surrender their weapons or face the consequences. However, the Sadrist militias have ignored the deadline, which was due to expire today, and entrenched themselves in large areas of the city.Read More