NSN Iraq Daily Update 3/27/08

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET


Sadr's Mahdi Army digs-in during assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police trying to regain control of the southern port city of Basra. Basra has become the theater of a bitter turf war between the Mahdi Army and two rival Shi'a factions -- the powerful Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim and the smaller Fadhila party. However, the Mahdi Army was doing most of the fighting, engaging in daylong hit-and-run battles and refusing to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power. Though American and Iraqi officials have insisted that the operation was not singling out a particular group, the fighting also appeared to focus on Mahdi-controlled neighborhoods. Some witnesses said neighborhoods controlled by rival political groups seemed to be giving government forces safe passage. However, the Mahdi militia members seemed to hold their ground. Witnesses said that from the closely packed brick buildings of one Mahdi stronghold, the Hayaniya neighborhood, Mahdi fighters fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and sniper rifles at seemingly helpless Iraqi Army units pinned on a main road outside, their armored vehicles unable to enter the narrow streets. The assault has also sparked continuing violence by outraged Mahdi commanders in other major cities, including Baghdad. [NY Times, 3/27/08]

Attempt to secure Basra is a test of Iraqi Army and PM Maliki, while uncertainty surrounds the true loyalties of the Basra police force. American officials have presented the Iraqi Army's attempts to secure the port city as an example of its ability to carry out a major operation against the insurgency on its own. A failure there would be a serious embarrassment for the Iraqi government and for the army, as well as for American forces eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively on their own. However, the integrity of the police forces in Basra remains uncertain. During a briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, a British military official said that of the nearly 30,000 Iraqi security forces involved in the assault, almost 16,000 were Basra police forces, which have long been suspected of being infiltrated by the same militias the assault was intended to root out. The operation is also a significant political test for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who traveled to Basra to oversee the assault. [NY Times, 3/27/08]

Militants blow up oil pipeline in Basra, impact on oil exports still uncertain. Despite the ongoing clash between Shi'a militias and government forces, Iraq's oil minister assured international oil companies that the violence in Basra would not affect exports and drilling. The bomb exploded underneath the Zubair-1 pipeline that sends crude oil from the Basra Zubair oil field to tanks for Iraq's two exporting terminals on the Gulf: al-Umaiya and Basra, according to an official in Basra. The official said the effect of Thursday's 10 a.m. blast could have an impact on Iraq's oil exports but the extent was uncertain. [AP, 3/27/08]


In Baghdad, "hundreds of thousands" of Sadr's followers poured on to the streets to stage noisy protests against the crackdown in Basra and demand the resignation of Maliki calling him a "dictator" who "represents Bush and Cheney." Mass demonstrations were held in the Sadr City, Kadhimiya and Shula districts. In Sadr City, an impoverished Shiite district of around two million people in east Baghdad, crowds gathered outside the Sadr office to yell slogans against the prime minister. "Maliki you are a coward! Maliki is an American agent! Leave the government, Maliki how can you strike Basra?" the crowd chanted. One demonstrator said, "The government wants to root out the Sadr movement ahead of provincial elections. We are demonstrating -- women, children and men -- to demand an end to the military operation. These are our brothers." The fighting exposes the deep divide within the Shi'a community between the parties in Maliki's government who have control over the security forces and many southern governorates, and Sadr's followers who in many Shi'a areas rule the streets. [Reuters, 3/26/08]


President Bush met with the military's top leaders at the Pentagon on Wednesday to hear their views on prospects for further troop reductions. Much of the meeting with the Joint Chiefs focused on the ongoing strains on the force and the impact that waging two wars has had on the military, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said. It was the last in a series of Iraq consultations by Bush with his top advisers and commanders in advance of the president's decision on how to proceed in Iraq as U.S. troop levels are declining. After Gen. Petraeus presents his Iraq progress report to Congress in early April, Bush is still expected to embrace the field commander's desire for a temporary halt in troop withdrawals beyond those already scheduled. [AP, 3/26/08]


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