Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sadr Threatens "Open War" As Iraqi Offensives Continue

The Iraqi government is is in the midst of operations to clear Sadr City and Basra. Sadr and his militia are clearly looking at destruction and, today, Sadr threatened "open war" with the Iraqi government if they did not end their assaults and set a date for withdraw of U.S. forces from Iraq.


Sadr is looking at the end game as far as his militia is concerned, and may well find himself starting a conflict that he will not walk away from if he continues his current path. The Iraqi government clearly has no intention of allowing the Mahdi Army to continue its criminal reign in Iraq, and things are rapidly moving towards a climax. As Iraqi military and joint U.S. operations continue in Baghdad and Basra, Sadr has issued a threat to the Iraqi government, as reported in the Boston Globe today:

Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday threatened an "open war" against the Iraqi government unless it halted a crackdown by Iraqi and U.S. security forces on his followers.

. . . "I'm giving the last warning and the last word to the Iraqi government -- either it comes to its senses and takes the path of peace ... or it will be (seen as) the same as the previous government," Sadr said, referring to Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, without elaborating.

"If they don't come to their senses and curb the infiltrated militias, then we will declare an open war until liberation."

Sadr's movement accuses other Shi'ite parties of getting their militias into the Iraqi security forces, especially in southern Shi'ite Iraq where various factions are competing for influence in a region home to most of Iraq's oil output.

"Do you want a third uprising?" Sadr said, adding that he wanted Iraq's Shi'ite clerical establishment to set a date for the departure of American troops.

In Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, one Mehdi Army commander said he was "thrilled" about the statement.

"We will wait until tomorrow to see the response of the government. Otherwise they will see black days like they have never seen before in their life."

. . . In Baghdad, police described battles between security forces and gunmen that began on Friday in Sadr City as among the heaviest in the capital since Maliki launched a crackdown on the Mehdi Army in the southern city of Basra late last month.

Police said 12 people had been killed in the Shi'ite slum. Hospitals said they received more than 130 wounded overnight.

Late on Saturday, Ali Bustan, head of the health directorate in the eastern section of Baghdad, said three rockets hit the Sadr Hospital in the slum. It was unclear if there were any casualties. The U.S. military said it was not to blame.

Bustan said the bodies of three women had been brought in along with 40 wounded people following fresh clashes.

Maliki has threatened to ban Sadr's movement from provincial elections this year if the cleric does not disband his militia.

In response, Sadr has threatened to formally scrap a ceasefire he imposed on the Mehdi Army last August, which has already been hanging by a thread given recent clashes.

In his statement, Sadr did not refer to the truce, but his spokesman in the holy city of Najaf, Salah al-Ubaidi, said the cleric was not bluffing.

"We mean every word," Ubaidi told Reuters.

Sadr issued his warning after Iraqi soldiers swooped on the Mehdi Army's stronghold in Basra. Iraqi officials said they now controlled the bastion, known as the Hayaniya district.

The dawn raid by government troops there was backed by a thunderous bombardment by U.S. warplanes and British artillery.

. . . Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an interior ministry spokesman, described the Basra operation as a major success.

Read the entire article. Sadr is reacting the latest major offensive in Basra this morning in which Iraqi troops took control of one of the three major strongholds of the Mahdi Army in Basra, the Hayaniyah neighborhood. This from the The Long War Journal:

The Iraqi Army, backed by Coalition advisers and airpower, has launched an assault on the Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood of Hayaniyah in the port city of Basrah, sparking heavy fighting. Multinational Forces Iraq described the action as "a new phase of operations" as part of the overall operation, called Knights' Charge, which was launched on March 25.

The fighting in Basrah is said to be intense. The assault began at 6 AM local time when "British artillery and US aircraft released ordnance against known criminal rocket and mortar sites west of Hayaniyah," the Multinational Forces Iraq press release stated.

"There were violent clashes with gunmen there," Captain Chris Ford, a British military spokesman in Basrah, told The Los Angeles Times. An Iraqi witness said Coalition airstrikes blunted a Mahdi Army attack and allowed Iraqi forces to take control of the main streets in Hayaniyah.

Iraqi troops are now said to be in control of the neighborhood. "Our troops deployed in all the parts of the (Hayaniyah) district and controlled it without much resistance," Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior told Reuters. "Now we are working on house-to-house checking. We have made many arrests."

Elements from at least two Iraqi Army divisions are involved in the Hayaniyah operation. The newly formed 14th Division is operating in conjunction with the 1st Division, one of the most seasoned divisions in the Iraqi Army. "This remains an Iraqi led, planned and executed mission," said Major Tom Holloway, the British Army’s spokesman in southern Iraq. A brigade from the 1st Division was moved into Basrah to support the operation after the military met tougher than expected opposition at the onset of Knights' Charge. The 1st Division is based out of Anbar province and has seen action in Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul and elsewhere.

. . . Iraqi troops wrested control of Taymiyyah and Qiblah from the Mahdi Army over the past several weeks.

. . . Today's operation is the latest in a series of actions designed to wrest Basrah from the grip of the Mahdi Army. On April 18, the Iraqi security forces detained 35 "wanted men" in Basrah, Al Faw, and Al Qornah. One of those captured included an "accused suspected of being involved in the attempt on the life of one of top Shiite Cleric Ali al Sistani's representatives in Basrah." The Sistani representative was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt.

Also on April 18, Iraqi troops surrounded an office of the Sadrist movement in the heart of the city. The building complex is owned by the Iraqi Olympic Committee and was occupied by other political parties, all of whom left after receiving notice from the government. The Iraqi military has been ordered to eject political parties from state-owned buildings, but the Sadrist party is refusing to leave. A 48-hour deadline has been issued for the Sadrists to leave. The Sadrists have said they have begun to leave the premises and will be out of the buildings today. . . .

Read the entire article. And this from the Washington Post:

. . . "We confiscated many cars with no license plates that were used in kidnappings and assassinations," said Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, the Basra police chief. "And we found thousands of roadside bombs in Hayaniyah."

Faiz Mohammed, 41, who lives in Hayaniyah, said, "We feel safer now."

In a news conference, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq said his government supported Maliki's recent Basra offensive, saying the Iraqi government has a right to target "criminal groups." But the ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said the U.S. military operations in Sadr City were ill-conceived.

"The American forces bombed the homes of innocent people," he said. "Many people are also being forced to leave their homes." The U.S. military said it targets fighters, not civilians.

Qomi's remarks are sure to renew speculation about the ties between Iran and both the Sadrists and the Maliki-led government. His strong endorsement of the Basra operation suggests that Iran may be choosing sides in the Shiite-on-Shiite fighting. It may also bolster the view of some Iraqis that Iran, which the United States has accused of supplying Sadrists with weapons, no longer supports Sadr as strongly as it once did.

Read the entire article. As to Oomi, he is a known Qods Force member. I would not take any of his remarks at face value. One wonders how this will all play in Tehran.

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