Saturday, March 29, 2008

The artificial lull of the 'Surge' collapses

Mahdi Army Stands Firm in its Basra Neighborhoods
Demonstrations in Baghdad against al-Maliki

By Juan Cole

"Information Clearinghouse" -- - People are asking me the significance of the fighting going on in Basra and elsewhere. My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists oming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary. Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to refuse to negotiate with the Mahdi Army militiamen, and said, "They have no other choice but to surrender." He did extend the deadline for them to surrender heavy arms from 3 days to 10, and promised monetary rewards to those who complied. Al-Maliki said he was unconcerned with political parties, but that he could not abide armed gangs that interfered with the work of the government. He was referring to the Mahdi Army.

Clashes continued between government troops and the Mahdi Army on Thursday in Basra and other cities in the south for the third straight day. Some 45 are said to be dead in Kut, the capital of Wasit province, and US helicopter gunships are said to have killed 60 in Hilla south of Baghdad.

On Friday morning, there are reports of clashes in Nasiriya and Mahmudiya.

The LA Times says of the fighting in Basra on Thursday, when its downtown was a ghost town:

' Residents said food prices were soaring because it was difficult to get goods into the city, where clashes continued Thursday. In a Sadr stronghold in west Basra, hundreds of people led by tribal sheiks held a protest demanding that the government halt the military operation and restore electricity and water, which they said had been cut three days earlier. '

McClatchy reports that so far the 30,000 Iraqi government troops in Basra have proven unable to dislodge the Mahdi Army from its strongholds:

' In Basra, the Mahdi Army retained control of its four main strongholds of al Hayaniyah, al Qibla, al Timimiyah and Khamsa Mil. Al Timimiyah is in the center of the city, and the three other areas are on the main road from Baghdad to Basra. '

Water, electricity and medicine were said to be lacking for people in Basra.

BBC reports that on Friday morning, there was a lull in the fighting and people were coming out:

' "Today since early morning it's quiet. No shooting. And the people in Basra are going out of their houses for shopping. The buses have started working. And the cars are also working on the streets," the councillor said. '

In Baghdad, al-Hayat says, thousands of protesters came out to rally against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, demanding that he resign and threatening him with a trial worse than that of Saddam Hussein.

Clashes broke out between Mahdi Army militiamen and government security forces in 10 Baghdad districts, but appear to have subsided when a curfew was imposed, which forbids vehicles to circulate until Sunday.

The Green Zone, where the US embassy and other US facilities are, took more heavy mortar fire on Thursday. An American earlier wounded in that sort of bombardment later died.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that various parties in parliament are responding differently to al-Maliki's military campaign in Basra. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with 85 members in parliament, strongly supported the operation. The major component of the UIA is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a rival of the Sadrists of Muqtada al-Sadr. Ironically, ISCI is denouncing the maintaining of a paramilitary by a party; yet it has its own militia, the Badr Corps.

In contrast, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front is opposed to the attack on the Mahdi Army, with its leader Adnan Dulaimi, saying that it does not work to the benefit of Iraq.

A member of Iyad Allawi's National Iraqi List, which has 22 seats in parliament, said it was necessary to stop the activities of lawless gunmen. But Izzat al-Shahbandar warned that if the campaign went on very long, it could derail the political process in Iraq.

McClatchy reports civil war violence in Iraq for Thursday:

' Baghdad

12 mortars hit the Green Zone starting at 10 am until this report was prepared at 2 pm, Thursday, said Iraqi Police. The U.S. Embassy said no one was injured.

2 mortar rounds fell on Ur neighbourhood, east Baghdad near an open air marketplace killing one civilian, injuring two.

2 mortar rounds hit Karrada Kharij Street, central Baghdad injuring 1 civilian.

17 wounded Iraqi Army soldiers from Basra were taken to al-Yarmouk Hospital for treatment.

Clashes in al-Mansour district, from Iskan neighbourhood to Abu Jafar al-Mansour began this morning between Mahdi Army members and security forces. 3 Iraqi Army soldiers were injured and the clashes continued at the time of publication.

A parked car bomb exploded near the Red Crescent office, Andalus Square, in central Baghdad causing some material damages to its outer wall.

Clashes between Mahdi Army members and National Police in al-Amin neighbourhood started this morning and continue until the preparation of this report at 2 pm. Casualties have not been reported until this time.

The office of al-Da'wa Party in al-Shaab neighbourhood has been torched, causing only material damages.

3 mortars hit al-Alawi bus station, central Baghdad, killing 2 civilians, injuring 15.

Updating Sadr City news, since the fighting started on Monday until now, the toll has reached 38 killed and 47 wounded, Iraqi police said.

Gunmen kidnapped the civil spokesman of the Baghdad Security Plan, Tahseen al-Shaikhli. An armed group attacked his home, took him captive, let his family go and torched his house. They also took a government pick up truck, loaded it with 26 pieces of weaponry belonging to his security detail.

8 Iraqi soldiers were wounded in clashes between Iraqi Army and members of the Mahdi Army in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at around 3 pm Thursday.

Random fire by gunmen passing in a speeding car killed a father and his son, 13 years old in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at 5 this afternoon.

1 civilian injured when gunmen opened fire randomly across Sabah al-Khayat Square in Shaab area in north Baghdad at around 5 pm.

1 mortar round fell in Battawin neighbourhood, which is a largely commercial area in central Baghdad, injuring 2 civilians at 5 pm.

Clashes between gunmen and Iraqi Army in Zafaraniyah, southeast Baghdad at around 5.30 pm left 2 soldiers seriously injured.

2 mortar rounds hit the Ministry of Interior, al-Tasfeerat compound in central Baghdad at 6 pm killing 1 employee and injuring 4.

A mortar shell hit a residential building in Karrada Dakhil, central Baghdad at 6.15 pm, injuring 2 residents and causing material damage.

Clashes broke out between National Police and gunmen in Husseiniyah neighbourhood at around 6.30 pm and the clashes continued at the time of publication.

4 mortar rounds hit the US military base in Rustamiyah at 6.30 pm. No casualties were reported and no comment was available from the US military at the time of publication.

Gunmen target a police patrol at the entrance of al-Hurriyah neighbourhood at 8 pm injuring 1 policeman.

Thursday at 8 pm the Shoala Police Station fell in the control of an armed group.

5 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad by Iraqi Police today. 1 in Ur, 1 in Zayuna, 1 in Husseiniyah, 1 in Mansour, 1 in Alawi al-Hilla, Sheikh Ma'roof.


Fighting in Basra between the Mahdi Army and the security forces has been ongoing since early Tuesday, and the toll of the fighting is at least 97 killed and around 300 injured, a medical source in the Directorate of Health in Basra said.


Clashes have resumed in the city centre of Hilla city causing the injury of 30 people, 22 of whom were police and army, 8 civilians amongst who was a woman and the death of 1 soldier and 2 policemen.

Clashes in Chiffel neibourhood inside Hilla city continue, and the offices of al-Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council were torched by members of al-Mahdi Army causing the death of 3 policemen and the injury of 4.


Gunmen torch Badr Organization Bureau located in Hitteen Square, in the centre of Amara city. They launched 4 RPGs at the bureau, three of which hit the bureau and burned the building to the ground. The fourth hit an adjacent house, injuring one of its inhabitants.

Clashes between Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army members as the regular army was crossing what is commonly known as the Yugoslav Bridge, north Amara. 2 civilians were killed and 7 injured by cross fire.


Gunmen attack a Sahwa, US sponsored militia, member's house in al-Khadhraa neighbourhood, downtown Samara and kill both him and his son and injured his wife and one of his daughters. Joint forces, Iraqi army and US military announce a curfew in order to search for the armed group, said First Lieutenant Muthanna Shakir. US military did not include this report in their release.

A roadside bomb exploded yesterday, Wednesday targeting a Support Force, CLC, checkpoint on the main road near Awja city injuring 7 Sahwa members and 2 civilians.

A mortar shell fell on Tel al-Jarad, Baiji city, yesterday evening killing a woman Mona Ajaj, injuring 5 civilians, amongst whom were 3 children and a woman.

IED exploded targeting a soldier as he left his home going to work, in Malha neighbourhood, north Baiji, causing his death.


5 unidentified bodies were found in a mass grave by security forces in al-Zor area, Muqdadiyah district, 25 km to the east of Baquba.

Local police found 4 bodies in al-Asaiba village, Shahraban district, 8 km south of the town of Baladruz. . .

A roadside bomb exploded targeting a civilian car in the town of Khanaqin injuring 2 civilians.

The District Commissioner's office in Khan Beni Saad was targeted with mortar fire by the Mahdi Army today. The security forces announced a curfew in the town in order to track the armed group.

Anbar . . .

5 Iraqi Army soldiers from Anbar were killed in the fighting in Basra. Their bodies were returned to their families today.


A suicide car bomb targeted an Asayesh, a Kurd security intelligence agency, vehicle killing an officer, Captain Tayib Mahmoud, and injuring 2 of his security detail and 5 civilians in the proximity of the explosion. The incident took place in al-Quds Street, Tiseen neighbourhood, downtown Kirkuk city early Thursday morning.

Gunmen assassinated the Commander of Garmian Peshmerga Forces, of the KDP. The gunmen opened fire upon his motorcade in a town near Daqooq, south Kirkuk, killing him and 4 of his security detail.