From Iraqi Police Refuse to Back Maliki’s Attacks on Mehdi Army By PATRICK COCKBURN
- The officer said four of his men were killed and 15 wounded in the fighting. “Some of the men told me that they did not want to go back to the fight until they have better support and more protection,” he added. The Interior Ministry threatened that the men would be court-martialled for refusing to fight.
- Government troops arriving in Basra complain that they are being fired on by local police loyal to Mr Sadr.
- Members of one police unit had fist fights with their officers after they refused to join the battle.
- US aircraft are dropping bombs in Basra and US armored vehicles made an incursion into Sadr City in Baghdad
- Sadr City, which has a population of two million and is almost a twin city to Baghdad. The densely packed slum has been sealed off by US troops. “We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday,” said a resident
- A measure of the anarchy in Iraq is that it is unclear who controls large swaths of the country. By one report the Mehdi Army has taken over the centre of the city of Nassariya. The Green Zone in Baghdad, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and of US political influence, is being mortared every day. One mortar round killed two guards outside the Vice-President’s office in the zone.
- Nobody knows on whose side sections of the security services belong. In a further blow to the belief that the surge has restored law and order, one of the two Iraqi spokesmen for the Baghdad security plan, which is at the heart of the surge strategy, was kidnapped and three of his bodyguards killed before his house was set on fire. The victim was Tahseen Sheikhly, a Sunni who often appeared with American officials to proclaim the success of the surge.
- In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of Mr Sadr, whose base of support is the Shia poor, marched through the streets shouting slogans demanding that Mr Maliki’s government be overthrown. “We demand the downfall of the Maliki government,”
Mystery surrounds Mr Maliki’s motive in launching an assault on the Mehdi Army after Mr Sadr renewed his six-month ceasefire last month. A likely explanation is that Mr Maliki, who has little support outside the holy city of Kerbala, was under pressure from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), his main ally, to attack the Sadrists now. The Sadrists were expected to do well against ISCI in provincial elections which are to be held in October under an agreement brokered by the US Vice-President Dick Cheney during his visit to Baghdad earlier in the month.
You can add to that now UK artillery and planes are engaged.
A trade union leader in Basra reminded me this week that March was the month in 1991 when Saddam launched his infamous campaign to crush an uprising, which began in Basra and spread to most of the country. This week’s attacks, he said, were much more ferocious that those 17 years ago. There are other disturbing echoes: Saddam’s forces were being observed by US and British planes, which were in full control of Iraqi air space as the March uprising was so brutally crushed.
The scale of the outcry has forced Grand Ayattollah Sistani to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, even though his various spokespeople initially supported the assault.
Many Iraqis are linking what they regard as a premeditated and unprovoked attack on a relatively peaceful city with Cheney’s visit and Washington’s insistence that the US-trained Iraqi armed forces should do more of the ground-fighting, while the occupation forces resort to air attacks and emergency support.
They are also linking it to the fact that oil and dock workers’ unions, declared illegal, are in full control of the ports and the major oil fields. These unions are strongly opposed to the US-backed oil law to privatise the Iraqi industry and allow the major oil companies to control production and marketing. The law is also opposed by the Sadr movement, which was expected to win a decisive victories in forthcoming elections.
Raed Jarrar on the misleading coverage-
Iraqi and US media quotes al-Maliki calling Sadrists “worse than al Qaeda”. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me because Al-Qaeda is indeed closer to Al-Maliki’s political and military agenda.
I know that this will shock to many US readers because both Al-Maliki and Al-Sadr are Shiites, and al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. But this is yet another piece of evidence showing that the fight in Iraq is not a sectarian or religious struggle between “the soooooniz” and “the shiiteeeez”.
Separatist Sunnis who want to create an “Sunnistan” in the middle and west of Iraq, like Al-qaeda’s “Islamic state of Iraq”, work for the same end goal as the separatist Shiites who want to create a “Shiastan” in the south, and the separatist Kurds with their existing “Kurdistan” in the north. So why would Al-Maliki and Al-Hakim, the two hardcore separatists, see al-qaeda as an enemy? After all, they all share the same vision for Iraq.
But Al-Sadr and Al-Fadhela, as two nationalist political powers who are against partitioning, are indeed a bigger threat to Shiastan than al-qaeda.
Niki and I were talking last night about how this “Sunni/Shiite civil war” has became a dogma in the US, and how all the indicators that this is not a sectarian war are being dismissed. Instead of admitting that this conflict was never sectarian, they hold on to their original explanations and simply say that the sectarian war has taken on a new component.