Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Assassinations Have Ended, Organised Crime Is Finished & Armed Groups Are No Longer On The Streets"

Since it concluded, the end result of the Iraqi government's Basra offensive has been hidden in the fog of . . . not war, but media spin. The results are now becoming clearer - at least in those papers who are reporting on the matter in any depth. The Iraqi Army now owns Basra. The title of this post comes from a quote by an Iraqi resident of Basra.

This from a report by AFP:

Three weeks after Iraqi troops swarmed into the southern city of Basra to take on armed militiamen who had overrun the streets, many residents say they feel safer and that their lives have improved.

The fierce fighting which marked the first week of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) has given way to slower, more focused house-by-house searches by Iraqi troops, which led on Monday to the freeing of an abducted British journalist.

Residents say the streets have been cleared of gunmen, markets have reopened, basic services have been resumed and a measure of normality has returned to the oil-rich city.

The port of Umm Qasr is in the hands of the Iraqi forces who wrested control of the facility from Shiite militiamen, and according to the British military it is operational once again.

However, the city is flooded with troops, innumerable checkpoints constantly snarl the traffic, residents are scared to go out at night despite the curfew being relaxed, and the sound of sporadic gunfire can still be heard.

An AFP correspondent said three northwestern neighbourhoods once under the firm control of the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- Al-Hayaniyah, Khamsamile and Garma -- are now encircled by Iraqi troops who are carrying out door-to-door searches.

Two other neighbourhoods once dominated by the Mahdi Army, Al-Qiblah in the southwest and Al-Taymiyyah in the centre, have been cleared of weaponry and many people have been arrested, military officials say.

Residents expressed relief at the improved security.

"I am very happy about the situation right now. The deployment of the Iraqi army has made gunmen and gangsters disappear from the streets," said court employee Mahdi Fallah, 42.

"The gangs were controlling the ports and smuggling oil. Now the ports are back in government hands. Everything in Basra is better than before."

Taxi driver Samir Hashim, 35, said he now felt safer driving through the city's streets and was willing to put up with the traffic jams caused by the many security checkpoints.

"We feel secure. Assassinations have ended, organised crime is finished and armed groups are no longer on the streets," said Hashim.

"I think Basra will be the best city in Iraq," he added optimistically. "We are finally beginning to feel there is law in Basra."

"We feel comfortable and safe and secure," said civil servant Alah Mustapha.

"The situation in Basra is stable. The Iraqi army controls the city and there are no longer armed groups on the streets."

The Iraqi security operations have not been without severe problems, and on Sunday 1,300 police and soldiers were sacked for failing to do their duty during the assault, which began on March 25 under orders of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

. . . The US military, meanwhile, said that since the crackdown began, the Iraqi security forces have arrested some 430 people, including 28 death row convicts who had been on the run.

And the British military, which is stationed at Basra airport giving logistical and air support to the Iraqi forces, said Iraqi soldiers had uncovered large caches of weapons and had dismantled a car bomb factory.

The Sadr movement has bitterly denounced the crackdown, accusing the government of using the security forces to weaken its political opponents ahead of provincial elections due in October.

A similar crackdown is also under way in the Mahdi Army's eastern Baghdad bastion of Sadr City where around 90 people have been killed in clashes between US and Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen in the past 10 days.

Read the entire article. And there is more from Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal:

As Iraqi and Coalition forces are pressing the fight against the Mahdi Army in northeastern Baghdad and the southern port city of Basrah. Iraqi troops have cleared two Mahdi Army strongholds in Basrah, and are reported to have surrounded three others as they prepare to press the operation. In Baghdad, the Iraqi Army and US forces continue to clash with the Mahdi Army while forces have moved into southwestern Sadr City and set up a 'demonstration area' to distribute aid and provide local security.

The battle for Sadr City

The Iraqi government signaled that it was willing to take on the Mahdi Army inside its Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City and the outlying neighborhoods since Muqtada al Sadr ordered his militia to cease fighting six days after the Basrah operation began in March. Last weekend, Ali al Dabbagh, the spokesman for the government of Iraq, said Iraqi and US forces would "continue [operations] until we secure Sadr City." Multinational Forces Iraq said it was backing the Iraqi government and the military in its efforts.

The operation involves more than military operations, as the Iraqi government seeks to wrest control of the Mahdi Army's grip on public services inside Sadr City. "The aim now is to launch an ambitious plan of 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day public works and services -- improvement projects designed to convince the local population that the Iraqi government -– and not Sadr's Mahdi Army militia – is best able to improve the quality of life in an impoverished expanse of pot-holed streets, open sewers, and joblessness," the Christian Science Monitor reported. "US and Iraqi military are now set up and living among the Sadr City residents in the 'demonstration' area of the southern third of the sector."

Clashes in Sadr City continue as the Mahdi Army attempts to disrupt the government's attempts to gain a foothold in the neighborhood. US troops killed five "criminals" in a series of engagements starting on the evening of April 14 up through this afternoon. . . .

Operation Knights' Assault moves forward in Basrah

As Iraqi and US troops work to wrest control of Sadr City from the Mahdi Army and allied Iranian-backed Shia militias, Operation Knights' Assault continues in the southern port city of Basrah. Knights' Assault has "entered a new phase of operations," Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release. Iraqi troops, backed by US and British advisers and coalition air and logistical support, have "started the process of clearing strongholds previously dominated by criminal militias." Iraqi and Coalition spokesmen have continued to refer to the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias as "criminals."

Iraqi troops have cleared the Qiblah in the southwestern portion of the city and the Taymiyyah neighborhood in central Basrah, while the Mahdi Army strongholds of Hayaniyah, Khamsamile and Garma in the northwest "are now encircled by Iraqi troops who are carrying out door-to-door searches," according to AFP.

Iraqi troops took control of the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr in Basrah province on April 1, and the ports are now open for business. Iraqi Marines are now securing the ports, freeing the Iraqi Army to conduct operations elsewhere in Basrah province.

Elements of the Mahdi Army in Basrah have vowed keep their weapons as the Iraqi security forces move into the Mahdi-controlled neighborhoods. . . .

Clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi and Coalition forces are ongoing in Basrah. Coalition air forces killed four Shia mortar men and wounded another in an attack west of Basrah on April 15. An Iraqi intelligence officer was killed in an ambush by "unidentified gunmen" in central Basrah on April 14. Iraqi soldiers also captured one kidnapper while freeing a British journalist who was kidnapped in Basrah more than two months ago. The Iraqi troops were fired on by the kidnappers as they were clearing the neighborhood.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have inflicted serious casualties on the Mahdi Army since launching Operation Knights' Assault. Four hundred Mahdi Army fighters have been killed since the March 25, while Iraqi soldiers have lost 15 killed in fighting and have had another 400 wounded. More than 400 Mahdi Army fighters were captured and 1,000 wounded in the clashes in Basrah alone. . . .

Read the entire article.

(H/T Instapundit)

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