Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sadrists Stirring

My colleague Eric has been raising an area of concern in that the Sadrist ceasefire is a tentative one that is conditional on the Sadrists not being targetting by the SIIC/Badr Brigades... whoops I meant the legitimate armed forces of Iraq, and the US military. As long as it is a live, and let live situation, the Sadrists were happy to reconsolidate their power and ride their popularity for being anti-American Shi'ite nationalists who support the poor with social services.  However the situation looks like it could be changing.  
 Unfortunately, the attacks and targeting of members of the Sadrist current have continued - actually, they've heated up in recent weeks with informed speculation pointing to a coordinated attempt to weaken the Sadrist current ahead of regional elections (more on this below).
McClatchey is reporting on wide spread preperations for armed conflict between the JAM/Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades/SIIC/Iraqi military in multiple locations.  The JAM appears to be on the defensive as they have won control of East Baghdad, and significant elements of riverside West Baghdad, as well as control of Basra, in conjunction with the Fadillah Party, an off-shoot Sadrist faction which is not loyal to Moqtada Sadr but follows another follower of Sadr's father.  
A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.
Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr's Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr's followers that they'll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.
Last week, I noted that in Kut and other southern cities Sadrist groups were fighting against official government formations that are fighting for the interests of the SIIC.  This could be the start of interesting times again after an intermediate pause as the dual pressures of internal urge to fight and external operations agaisnt Sadrist supporters may lead to increased combat intensity from Sadrists aligned fighters. 

Update By Cernig The BBC reports that the fighting is spreading to other Iraqi cities and that the Sadrist ceasefire is very definitely over.
Heavy fighting has been raging in Basra as thousands of Iraqi troops battle Shia militias in the southern city.
At least 30 people have died in the operation, which is being overseen in Basra by Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, a day after he vowed to "re-impose law".

Oil-rich Basra is in the grip of a bitter turf war between armed groups, including the Mehdi Army, analysts say.

Clashes have spread to other parts of Iraq, including Baghdad's Sadr City, where the Mehdi Army fought rival Shia.

The Mehdi Army - which supports radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr - has threatened a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience.

The powerful militia declared a truce last August which had been credited with helping restore stability to parts of Iraq.

...The BBC's Adam Brookes says three Iraqi army brigades were deployed from Baghdad to Basra as back-up for the offensive, and that up to 15,000 troops could be involved.

...Routes into Basra have been sealed off, according to reports.

One resident of the city told the BBC: "The streets are very dangerous, there's continuous exchange of fire in areas very close to my house, even though my neighbourhood is relatively safer than others."

The BBC's Paul Wood says the fighting in Basra can be seen as the government trying to impose law and order but also as part of the power struggle within the Shia community.

He says such intra-Shia violence could be just as dangerous to hopes of peace as sectarian hatreds or the insurgency.

The offensive comes a day after the authorities in Basra imposed an indefinite night-time curfew.

Police have now also imposed curfews in the cities of Kut, Samawa, Nasiriyah, Hilla and Diwaniyah.

Moqtada Sadr called for "general civil disobedience in Baghdad and the Iraqi provinces" if the attacks did not end.

In Sadr City, Mehdi Army fighters reportedly ordered Iraqi police and soldiers out of the district and there have been clashes between rival militias.

Hundreds of protesters marched in the Iraqi capital, calling on shops to shut.

The Mehdi Army also took control of several areas in Kut, 175km (110 miles) south-east of Baghdad.
Some, blinded by their own opinion of their intellect rather than applying themselves to serious thinking, have said that the Iran-backed nature of the SIIC and their Badr Brigade is irrelevant to all this, since the Iranians have proven themselves adept at bi-partisan backing of militia and terror groups elsewhere. That ignores entirely that the SIIC is also the largest part of the US-backed Iraqi central government and that the Badr Brigade has utterly penetrated the Iraqi security forces with central government comnnivance. What we have here is a faction-fight where one side has cloaked itself in the mantle of central authority and where both Iran and the US are backing that faction. That, surely, is noteworthy.

Be that as it may, the Sadrist ceasefire is surely over - something that may have accounted for a third or more of the drop in violence in Iraq. With Sunni Awakening members also calling for civil disobedience and national strikes in protest at their sidelining by the very same Shiite faction operating under the mask of central government authority, it looks very like that Shiite faction will respond against any such actions in the same way. They've already said they won't countenance the Awakening becoming a serious threat to their power, after all. The chances of any political reconciliation and continued drops in violence look very slim indeed. The wiondow has closed.

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