Iraqi security forces launch military action in Basra against Mehdi Army, supported by US Special Forces and coalition air support; Militants blast important oil pipeline
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Iraqi security forces launched attacks against the Shiite militias of the Mahdi army in the southern city of Basra on March 26, resulting in more than 130 deaths. Prime Minister Maliki initially rejected calls for negotiations by the Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and asserted that the action was proof of the increased abilities of Iraqi forces to launch independent security operations, a view point also echoed by US President George Bush1. Reports later in the week however noted that US Special Forces along with coalition air power were being used to help the Iraqi forces who were getting stalled in clearing Basra’s neighbourhoods of the militias2. The militants also blasted an important oil pipeline near Basra carrying over half-a-million barrels of crude every day for exports, resulting in worldwide concerns about Iraqi oil supply and crude prices crossing the $107-per-barrel mark3.

    The assault prompted thousands of Sadrists to protest against the government’s action, in Baghdad and its Shiite neighbourhoods, prompting the imposition of curfew. Sadr on his part issued a statement on March 29 calling on his followers not to continue fighting, in a bid to stop the confrontation from spiralling out of control. Sadrists also accused the Maliki government of targeting them ahead of the provincial elections in October, where they were expected to put up a strong performance4. Reports noted that the fighting in the south was indicative of the deep divisions within the Shiite community and the lack of progress in political reconciliation.

    In other developments, President Bush was briefed by the top Iraqi commander Gen. David Petraeus over video conference on March 24. Reports noted that Mr. Bush was advised to put on hold further troop withdrawals till at least July and that troop levels would remain the same throughout 2008 without any major changes5.