The Iraqi government's spokesman Ali al-Dabagh has promised that anyone taking up Muqtada al-Sadr's call for civili disobedience will be tried under Iraqi laws that mandate a death sentence, as Iraqi officials continue to insist that the Sadrists are not the sole target of their offensive in Southern Iraq.
The Iraqi anti-terror laws passed in 2005 mandate capital punishment for "those who commit ... terror acts" as well as "those who provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit these crimes." By defining even peaceful political protests as acts of terrorism, the Iraqi government is stepping towards a totalitarian regime masked by a veneer of democracy.
Earlier this week, Sadr urged Iraqis to conduct civil disobedience campaigns throughout country to protest the government’s military operations in Basra. On March 27, he called for a political solution to end the "shedding of Iraqi blood".Meanwhile, the Sadrist movement continues to claim that the current crackdown in the South is a case of Malki and his SIIC allies using military force to create electoral results they will be happy with.
In Baghdad, thousands of angry protesters poured into streets of Shia majority neighbourhoods, demanding that Maliki resign and calling him “the new dictator”. The government imposed a three-day curfew in the capital which lasts until 5am on Sunday.
Spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali al-Dabagh denounced the call for disobedience, calling it “an act of terror”. “Anyone who commits it will be tried under the anti-terrorism law,” he said.
Other political parties said they were worried that the violence has dashed hopes of stabilising Iraq.
“The fighting in Basra might wipe out all of the efforts that were spent to bring about stability to the country,” said Saleem al-Juboori, a member of Iraqi National Accord, the main Sunni group in parliament.
Sadr representatives have accused the government of deliberately targeting its members ahead of the crucial October 2008 provincial elections and vowed to fight US and Iraqi forces. Shia parties have vied for political and economic control of Basra since 2003.However, all reports from the region on the spreading violence, as well as posed PR photos, that mention militias by name mention only actions against Sadr's Mahdi Army, while it seems that Badr Brigade militias may be actually joining the Iraqi security forces in their attacks.
“We know that there are some factions who want to weaken us so that we will not be represented in the provincial elections,” said Harith al-Uzari, head of Sadr’s office in Basra.
“If the government continues with this policy we will defend ourselves,” vowed Mazin al-Sa’di, head of Sadr’s office in Baghdad’s al-Karikh neighbourhood. “We will take up arms and stand against the government and the Americans.”
But government officials deny the Sadrists are being targeted.
“This operation is not against the Sadr movement,” maintained Brigadier Abdul-Aziz Mohammad, head of military operations at the ministry of defence.
“It is against criminal gangs and militias who are acting under the name of religion.”
But the battle itself is very fluid right now, with successes for forces commanded by the majority Shiite bloc in government on the fringes of the operation but a far more difficult situation than they perhaps expected for them in Basra proper and other large towns.
Sauidi said the Mahdi army was well equipped for the fight ahead. "We have captured lots of their vehicles, machine guns and mortars. We have new RPGs we got from their supply trucks. Our fighters know how to use the side streets as their battle space."That same Sadrist makes very clear the stakes for both sides:
As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and Shia Iraqi soldiers continued, witnesses described the scenes in Basra.
A resident of the poor neighbourhood of Hayaniya said: "The situation is very difficult in Basra, all the side streets are controlled by the Mahdi army. Even if the army has lots of tanks, the Mahdi fighters are controlling the streets. The fighters are driving in captured Iraqi Humvees and waving new guns."
We are going through a battle of existence we will fight to the end. We either survive this or we are finished."I think it's fair to call this civil war.