The biggest surprise about the raging battles that erupted last week in southern Iraq was not that the combatants were fellow Shiites, but that it took this long.
Enmity has long festered between the two sides: one a ruling party that has struggled against the widespread perception that it gained power on the back of the U.S. occupation, the other a populist movement that has positioned itself as a critic of the U.S.-backed new order.
Actually, Ned, the biggest surprise is that so many in the press continue to act like puppet Nouri al-Maliki decided all by himself to launch the assault on Basra when the reality is a puppet's strings are always pulled. The above is from Ned Parker's "In Iraq, U.S. caught in middle of Shiite rivalry" (Los Angeles Times). Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports on yesterday's actions noting:
After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al Sadr, Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the firebrand cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.
Maliki denounced Shia militants in Basra as the equivalent of Al Qaida, and Sadr told his supporters not to hand over their arms to a puppet state of the United States.
The diplomatic initiative and the harsh rebuff further eroded expectations for a successful outcome to the offensive, which Maliki is personally directing from the presidential palace in the southern port city. It was not the only sign of problems.
That was yesterday. Moqtada al-Sadr has changed plans. Khaled Farhan (Reuters) reports al-Sadr declared today, Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed ... we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces. Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us." There is a segment left out by Reuters and there is confusion with Reuters quoting a loyalist saying that surrendering their weapons means US forces now come after them. What effect this will have is unclear and it's unclear whether, if al-Sadr's edict is followed, how long it holds. He is calling for the release of prisoners. If that isn't met, does he then say, "Fight again!"? If so, how since presumably weapons would have been surrendered?
Late yesterday, the US military announced: "Two Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldiers were killed when their vehicle was struck by an improvised-explosive device in eastern Baghdad at approximately 5:30 p.m. March 29." The announcement brings the ICCC total to 4007 US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
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