[Guest post by DRJ]
Monday in Iraq, al-Sadr called for nationwide civil disobedience that was viewed by some of his followers as a call to end the cease-fire. Al-Sadr’s action may have been a response to recent Iraqi government crackdowns on corruption associated with the lucrative oil facilities in Basra. During this period, the violence in Baghdad and especially in Basra has escalated.
As reported today in the New York Times, Prime Minister Maliki has now given al-Sadr and his militia 72 hours to lay down their weapons or face more severe consequences:
“A day after launching a huge operation that ignited heavy fighting in two of Iraq’s largest cities, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki gave the Shiite militias controlling the southern oil city of Basra an ultimatum on Wednesday: lay down their weapons within 72 hours or face more severe consequences.
As the fighting in Basra and Baghdad intensified on Wednesday, the American military command, speaking for the first time about the crackdown, characterized it as an Iraqi-led operation in which American-led forces were playing only an advisory role. An Iraqi hospital official said that the battle in Basra between Iraqi forces and Shiite militias led by Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, had so far claimed the lives of 40 people and wounded at least 200, figures that include militia members as well as Iraqi officers.”
There were also a few interesting tidbits deeper in the article:
“On Tuesday, Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood that is the center of the Mahdi Army’s power, was sealed off by a cordon of Iraqi troops and what appeared to be several American units.
A New York Times photographer who was able to get through the cordon found more layers of checkpoints, each one run by about two dozen heavily armed Mahdi Army fighters clad in tracksuits and T-shirts. Tires burned in the city center, gunfire echoed against shuttered stores, and teams of fighters in pickup trucks moved about brandishing machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.
“We are doing this in reaction to the unprovoked military operations against the Mahdi Army,” said a Mahdi commander who identified himself as Abu Mortada. “The U.S., the Iraqi government and Sciri are against us,” he said, referring to a rival Shiite group whose name has changed several times, and is now known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has an armed wing called the Badr Organization.
“They are trying to finish us,” the commander said. “They want power for the Iraqi government and Sciri.”
Is this the beginning of the final showdown with al-Sadr and his militia? I don’t get a vote on this but, if I did, I would check the “Finish Them” box.
By the way, even though it will probably win him accolades in his profession, I’m not overly impressed that a New York Times photographer “got through” an Iraqi security cordon.