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Iraq's Sadr threatens civil revolt after deadly clashes

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080325/wl_mideast_afp/iraqunrestbasra_080325122230;_ylt=AlY8lksJ4a01j9AsVjgKbbIUewgF Iraq s Sadr threatens civil revolt after
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25 5:41 AM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080325/wl_mideast_afp/iraqunrestbasra_080325122230;_ylt=AlY8lksJ4a01j9AsVjgKbbIUewgF

      Iraq's Sadr threatens civil revolt after deadly
      clashes

      by Karim Jamil 16 minutes ago

      BASRA, Iraq (AFP) - Iraq's radical Shiite cleric
      Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday threatened a countrywide
      campaign of civil revolt as security forces battled
      his militiamen in the southern city of Basra.

      Fighting raged in areas of Basra controlled by Sadr's
      Mahdi Army militia from early morning as troops and
      police launched a major crackdown on armed groups in
      the oil hub, considered the nerve centre of Iraq's
      national economy.

      At least four people were killed and 18 wounded in the
      clashes, said police Major Abbas Youssef.

      Sadr, in a statement read by his representative Hazam
      al-Aaraji in the holy city of Najaf, warned he would
      launch protests and a nationwide strike if attacks
      against members of his movement are not halted.

      "If the government does not respect these demands, the
      second step will be general civil disobedience in
      Baghdad and the Iraqi provinces."

      The cleric in August ordered his militia to observe a
      ceasefire following bloody fighting in the shrine city
      of Karbala blamed on his fighters.

      While Iraqi and US officials say most members of the
      militia have heeded the order, a number of what the US
      military terms "rogue elements" continue to attack
      American forces with mortars, rockets and roadside
      bombs.

      British military officials said Prime Minister Nuri
      al-Maliki was in Basra to personally oversee the major
      security force sweep in Iraq's second largest city,
      but that British troops were not taking part.

      An AFP correspondent said fighting involving mortars,
      machine guns and assault weapons erupted soon after
      the security forces entered the Al-Tamiyah
      neighbourhood, a bastion of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia,
      at around 5:00 am (0200 GMT). The fighting quickly
      spread to five other Mahdi Army neighbourhoods.

      Television pictures showed Iraqi troops running
      through the streets firing weapons and taking cover as
      ambulances raced past. Thick palls of smoke were seen
      rising above the city skyline.

      Witnesses said the streets were empty aside from the
      security forces, emergency vehicles and people in cars
      fleeing the fighting. Shops and markets were closed.

      In the wake of the fighting police also also imposed
      curfews in three other southern Shiite cities -- Kut,
      Samawa and Nasiriyah -- as precautionary measures.

      Basra province was handed over to Iraqi control by
      British forces in mid-December.

      It has since become the theatre of a bitter turf war
      between the Mahdi Army, the Badr organisation allied
      to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) of
      powerful politician Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, and the
      smaller Shiite party, Fadhila, ahead of provincial
      elections in October.

      The operation against the militias dubbed Saulat
      al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) came after a 10:00
      pm to 6:00 am curfew was slapped on the entire Basra
      province on Monday.

      Liwa Sumaysim, head of Sadr's political bureau in
      Najaf, denounced the bloodletting.

      "We do not want the situation as it is in Basra. We
      are against bloodshed, especially in this critical
      period of time," Sumaysim told AFP.

      "The Sadr movement is being targeted in Basra, that is
      why this tension has been created. The Iraqi
      government forces should not use force against poor
      people."

      After touring Basra on Monday, Maliki vowed his
      government would restore order, saying the city was
      experiencing a "brutal campaign" by internal and
      external groups targeting members of the scientific
      and religious communities "and other innocent men and
      women."

      "This is accompanied by the smuggling of oil, weapons
      and drugs. The outlaws are finding support from within
      the state and outside. This is why Basra has become a
      city where civilians cannot even secure their lives
      and property," Maliki said in a statement.

      "That has affected negatively the economic
      development. The federal Iraqi government... will
      restore security, stability and enforce law in this
      city."

      Vehicle access to Basra has been temporarily closed
      from neighbouring provinces due to the curfew while
      teaching at schools and universities had been
      suspended.

      Basra housewife Um Hussein said the crackdown had
      caught residents unawares.

      "It is a difficult situation. Not many shops or
      grocery stores are open since the curfew and since the
      fighting began. We have not stored household items at
      all. I hope the fighting ends quickly."

      In Baghdad, hundreds of Sadr supporters protested
      against the arrests of Mahdi Army members, marching
      through the city's western neighbourhoods as shops,
      schools and offices remained closed.
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