Iraq's Sadr threatens civil revolt after deadly clashes
Iraq's Sadr threatens civil revolt after deadly
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
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
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
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
"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
Vehicle access to Basra has been temporarily closed
from neighbouring provinces due to the curfew while
teaching at schools and universities had been
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.