Iraq: More US airstrikes on Basra - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Iraq: More US airstrikes on Basra

Iraq: More US airstrikes on Basra
By RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer
44 minutes ago

U.S. jets widened the bombing of Basra on Saturday, dropping two precision-guided bombs on a suspected militia stronghold north of the city, British officials said.

Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, said U.S. jets dropped the two bombs on a militia position in Qarmat Ali shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Basra is Iraq's commercial and oil hub, and militant followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been battling Iraqi and coalition forces in the southern city since Tuesday.

"My understanding was that this was a building that had people who were shooting back at Iraqi ground forces," Holloway said.

The number of people killed in the latest strikes was not yet known, he said.

Iraqi police said that earlier in the day a U.S. warplane strafed a house and killed eight civilians, including two women and one child. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report and it was not possible to independently verify it.

British jets also have been providing air support in the area. The British military had no immediate information but said it also was looking into the reports of civilian casualties.

American forces launched their first airstrikes in Basra Friday as Iraqi troops struggled against strong resistance in the nation's commercial center and headquarters of the vital oil industry. Clashes there have sparked retaliatory fights in Baghdad and other Shiite cities.

The fight for Basra is crucial for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who flew to Basra earlier this week and is staking his credibility on gaining control of Iraq's second largest city, which has essentially been held by armed groups for nearly three years.

Al-Maliki, speaking on government television Saturday, told tribal leaders in the southern city that he "will not leave Basra until security is restored" and those who have taken up arms against the government will be punished.

"We will continue to stand up to these gangs in every inch of Iraq," he said. "This is a decisive and final battle."

Al-Sadr called on his followers to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, saying arms of the Mahdi Army should only be turned over to a national leadership "that can get the occupier" — meaning the Americans their coalition allies — out of Iraq.

The order was made public by Haidar al-Jabiri, a member of the political commission of the Sadrist movement.

AP Television News footage showed smoke rising from the home in Basra's Hananiyah neighborhood where the police said the civilians were killed. Pools of blood and a destroyed pickup truck were seen outside the home hit by the plane.

Sheik Nasir Abdul Hussein in Basra said the strikes came after midnight and were followed by gunmen shooting in the air.

"The thunder of the aircraft frightened children," he said. "The sound smashed glasses, and the area was lighted by aircraft."

The crackdown in Basra has provoked a violent reaction — especially from al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. His followers accuse rival Shiite parties in the government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall.

Their anger has led to a sharp increase in attacks against American troops in Shiite areas following months of relative calm after al-Sadr declared a unilateral cease-fire last August and recently extended it for six months.

In extracts of an interview broadcast by the Al-Jazeera television network, al-Sadr called Saturday for Arab leaders to voice their support for Iraq's "resistance" to what he calls foreign occupation.

Many Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, are believed to receive weapons, money and training from nearby Iran, the world's most populous Shiite nation.

After a Friday deadline for gunmen to surrender their weapons and renounce violence expired with few complying, al-Maliki's office announced a new deal, offering Basra residents unspecified monetary compensation if they turn over "heavy and medium-size weapons" by April 8.

In Baghdad, Iraqi police said U.S. helicopters carried out airstrikes on the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City Friday night. Television footage showed destroyed buildings and the smoking wreckage of at least one car.

The U.S. military said in an e-mail that the only air assault it carried out last night was in the Kazamiyah neighborhood, west of Sadr City, killing 10 militants.

Iraq's Health Ministry, which is close to the Sadrist movement, on Saturday reported at least 75 civilians have been killed and at least 500 others injured in a week of clashes and airstrikes in Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad neighborhoods.

The U.S. military sharply disputes the claims, having said that most of those killed were militia members.

Some 40 policemen in Sadr City handed over their weapons to al-Sadr's local office, one of the policemen told The Associated Press on Saturday.

"We can't fight our brothers in the Mahdi Army, so we came here to submit our weapons," the policeman said on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The police in Sadr City have long been believed heavily influenced or infiltrated by Mahdi militiamen.

AP Television News footage showed a group of about a dozen uniformed police, their faces covered with masks to shield their identity, being met by Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City.

Al-Feraiji greeted each policeman and gave them a copy of the Quran and an olive branch as they handed over their guns and ammunition.

Meanwhile, mortar or rockets were again lobbed on Saturday from Shiite areas in eastern Baghdad toward the Green Zone, the fortified area where the U.S. and British embassies are located, along with much of the Iraqi government.

The U.S. military said in an e-mail they "have no reports of serious injuries" following the incoming rounds.

Mortars also landed in Shiite areas of eastern Baghdad, killing at least one person and injuring 12, according to police. It was not clear from where the mortars were fired.


Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press
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Sadr urges support for 'resistance'

Sadr urges support for 'resistance'
The Iraqi military began its operation in Basra to bring warring Shia militias under control [AFP]

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader, has called on Arab countries to support his militia's battle against "US occupation" as clashes between Shia groups and Iraqi government troops entered their fifth day.

The remarks came as Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister called the fighting in the southern city of Basra "a decisive and final battle".

More than 200 people have reportedly died since an Iraqi military crackdown in Basra sparked violence across the country.

Al-Maliki, who is personally supervising the operation in Basra, told tribal leaders in the city that Iraqi forces would not leave "without restoring security and order".

"We will continue to stand up to these gangs in every inch of Iraq," he said in remarks broadcast on state-owned television on Saturday.

"This is a decisive and final battle."

Basra operation

The Basra crackdown was aimed at disarming the city's warring Shia militias, including the Mahdi Army of al-Sadr, as well as crushing a number of criminal gangs.

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In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in Damascus, al-Sadr called on the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations to recognise "the Iraqi resistance".

"I appeal to these parties to add legitimacy to the resistance and to stand by, not against, the Iraqi people because the Iraqi people need Arabs as much as they need any other person," he said.

"Iraq is still under occupation and the United States' popularity is reducing every day and every minute in Iraq.

"I call, through Al Jazeera, for the departure of the occupying troops from Iraq as soon as possible."

Disarmament rejected

Meanwhile, fighters loyal to the Shia leader rejected the prime minister's call to disarm.

"Sadr has told us not to surrender our arms except to a state that can throw out the occupation," Haider al-Jabari, a member of the Sadr movement's political bureau, said.

On Thursday al-Maliki said that Basra residents would receive a "reward" if they handed in "heavy and medium-size weapons".

However, in Baghdad an official from al-Sadr's movement said Iraqi soldiers had attempted to hand their weapons over to him.

"We told them they should keep their arms. We gave them a Koran and they went back," Salman al-Afraiji said.

A curfew is in place in the capital amid the violence, with restrictions set to be reviewed by the military command on Sunday.

James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said on Saturday that missiles were still being fired.

"I heard six mortars or rockets - it's difficult to distinguish between the sound of mortars and Katyusha rockets - land in the Green Zone," he said.

'Hospitals overflowing'

Ahmed, a resident of slum neighbourhood which is home to about two million people, said the situation was deteriorating.

"The hospitals are overflowing with wounded. They can't take any more. Even the medical stores are closed," he told the AFP news agency.

An al-Sadr official said Iraqi troops in Baghdad
tried to handover arms to the group [AFP]
"There is no electricity, no water or fuel. We are afraid of gunbattles. The main markets are also closed."

Qassim Mohammed, a spokesman for Baghdad health directorate, told reporters in Sadr City: "Seventy-five people have been killed and 498 wounded in clashes in Sadr City in the last four days."

He accused American forces of "creating obstacles" in transporting victims of the violence to safety.

In Basra, Iraqi police said that eight civilians were killed and seven wounded in an air raid by US aircraft on a house on Saturday.

The US military said it was looking into the report. Both US and British military aircraft have provided air support to Iraqi forces in southern Iraq.

Fighting has also been reported in the central city of Karbala.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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