[Marxism] Iraqi and British troops fight Shiite militias

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 17 06:46:51 MDT 2006


NY Times, August 17, 2006
Iraqi and British Troops Clash With Shiite Militias
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 16 — Iraqi security forces and British troops fought 
Shiite militias and tribesmen in two major cities south of Baghdad on 
Wednesday in sustained battles that left two policemen and a dozen 
militiamen dead. The violence underscored the tenuous grip the Iraqi 
government maintains even in regions not under the sway of Sunni Arab 
insurgents.

Also on Wednesday, as American and Iraqi Army soldiers continued a security 
sweep through hostile neighborhoods in western Baghdad, bombings in other 
parts of the city killed 21 people and wounded 59 others.

Violent eruptions in Karbala, a Shiite holy city about 60 miles southwest 
of here, and Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, demonstrated the 
destabilizing power of internecine conflicts that have little to do with 
the anti-American insurgency or sectarian killings.

In Basra, a gun battle erupted between Iraqi Army troops and members of the 
dominant local tribe, the Bani Asad, apparently angered by the killing on 
Tuesday of a tribal leader, Faisal Raji al-Asadi, government officials in 
Basra said.

In a battle that lasted the better part of an hour, tribesmen clad in black 
clothing fired fusillades of bullets and grenades at the provincial 
government building, local police and government officials said, and 
eventually occupied the parts of the government complex.

“The building was in the hands of Bani Asad tribe,” an Iraqi government 
official in Basra said in a telephone interview, speaking over the 
sustained crackle of gunfire in the background. He said that the fighting, 
which killed six, including two policemen and two tribesmen, started 
because the tribe believed that the government was involved in Mr. Asadi’s 
killing.

A prominent member of the tribe who called himself Ayatollah al-Asadi 
suggested in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday afternoon that 
British forces, which have struggled to maintain control of Basra in the 
midst of warring Shiite militias, may have been responsible for the 
assassination. Faisal Raji al-Asadi “contributed to throwing the British 
out,” he said. “Maybe they are taking revenge now.”

A spokesman for the British military in Basra denied any involvement in the 
killing and gave a much different account of the hostilities on Wednesday.

Bani Asad tribesmen arrived at the government building armed but peaceful 
and demanded to see the governor, Muhammad al-Waili, a member of a 
different tribe, said the spokesman, Maj. Charlie Burbridge. “The 
protesters arrived and walked in the door,” he said, “It wasn’t an attack.”

Iraqi Army soldiers and local police succeeded in moving the armed men out 
of Mr. Waili’s offices, he said, though an Iraqi police officer appears to 
have been killed in a skirmish that followed. As the tribesmen were leaving 
the area, they passed a British military encampment and fired at it, 
provoking “quite an exchange of small-arms fire” that lasted 20 minutes, 
Major Burbridge said.

In Karbala, the violence on Wednesday took on a different hue, as security 
forces controlled by Shiites who are aligned with the main pro-Iranian 
bloc, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, fought 
militiamen loyal to a local Shiite cleric opposed to Iran’s influence in 
Iraq. The battle led security forces to cordon off the city to most 
nonresidents and impose a curfew.

Sheik Ali Badir al-Aboudi, an aide of the cleric, Mahmoud al-Hassani, said 
in an interview that the attack on Wednesday was in retaliation for a car 
bomb that exploded near one of the cleric’s schools. “We know that Iranian 
intelligence helped them to do this attack,” Mr. Aboudi said, “and now they 
are sending in troops to kill and arrest everyone they can.”

Ten militia fighters were killed and 281 were arrested, according to a 
statement from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Anthony H. Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies in Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday that 
the majority of police forces in southern Iraq were more loyal to Shiite 
leaders than the Iraqi government, and he suggested earlier this month that 
power struggles among Shiite factions in Iraq could further destabilize the 
country.

“Intra-Shiite political struggles are becoming a source of violence,” he 
wrote in an Aug. 1 analysis. “It is unclear how bad this Shiite 
factionalism really is,” he added, though it “may surface as a major new 
problem.”

In Baghdad, three bombs in the central part of the city killed 21 people on 
Wednesday, officials said. Around 9 a.m., a roadside bomb in the Nahdad 
district in central Baghdad killed 8 people and wounded 17 others, an 
Interior Ministry official said. At 7 p.m., two car bombs killed 13 people 
and left 43 others wounded, the official said.

The military has charged a Marine officer with assaulting three Iraqi 
civilians in April, accusing him of beating and choking them and placing a 
pistol in one victim’s mouth, Reuters reported. The officer, Second Lt. 
Nathan Phan, was charged with three counts of assault and one count of 
making a false statement relating to the matter, on April 10, near 
Hamdania, a town west of Baghdad.

Qais Mizher and Ali Adeeb contributed reporting for this article.

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