Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Maliki doesn't seem to be making headway in the South

Iraqi News Agency, available at quotes health sources in Basra who said from the start of fighting on Tuesday to 9:00am Wednesday local time, there were 40 killed and 200 wounded, including civilians, and armed people on both sides. The reporter said fighting eased overnight as Iraqi forces withdrew to neighborhoods in the western part of Basra, and announced that they are about to start what they call a major law-enforcement operation in Basra. The reporter adds that the Iraqi troop movement was
amid an intense circling of fighter aircraft overhead, and firing [by the fighter planes] on certain targets.
The government forces apparently failed in their first attempt to take over one Mahdi Army stronghold. The INA journalist writes:
In the district Hayy alHussein, considered a Mahdi Army stronghold, fighting continued all night from Tuesday to Wednesday, and eyewitnesses said a large force of the Iraqi Army undertook a broad campaign to try and enter the area but they had difficulty penetrating the defenses of the entrenched Mahdi Army forces.
The same INA agency said in a report last night that Special Forces units "under the command of the Dawa Party and in-laws of Maliki" were sent from Karbala to Basra yesterday*, quoting high-level sources in Karbala, who added that they have
initiated a state of martial law [in Basra] and the execution of anyone who falls under the hand of the aforementioned Special Forces, which are commanded by [military title] Shawkat, and [military title] Ali Hamid Hashem. The sources said there have been a lot of deaths in the Special Forces, and that hundreds have deserted from the government forces of the 14th Division, led by Muhammed Jawad Huwaidi, in addition to the death of [military title] Abu al-Khaseeb at the hands of the Mahdi Army and the Fadhila Party.
INA isn't the only outfit that reports things going not so well for the government forces. The online version of the Kuwaiti paper AlWasat reports:
Forces of the Mahdi Army militia surrounded a unit if the Iraqi army in the city of Basra, and 250 Iraqi soldiers announced their surrender to the Mahdi Army.
(The same site reports the Mahdi Army captured 17 American soldiers and seven Hummers, refusing to negotiate for them with the government, but I haven't seen any confirmation or followup). (H/t to for those two links).

Voices of Iraq says Maliki's office somewhere in the Basra area issued a statement at the end of the day that said he has been in communication with local officials, tribal leaders, and so on, urging them to help. The statement said some criminals have started to surrender their arms in the Khamsa Mil and other neighborhoods of Basra. But it didn't say anything about the success or otherwise of government forces' attempts to take control of the city.


* A later report in VOI confirms a large military contingent was sent from Karbala and arrived in Basra on Wednesday, but says they weren't so special, but rather were under general Iraqi Army command, and didn't have any problems on the way.


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