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From Basra to Baghdad

Upsurge in anti-occupation fighting sweeps Iraq

by Kosta Harlan |
May 7, 2008
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An upsurge of armed resistance to the U.S. occupation has swept across Iraq over the past six weeks. Most of the fighting was initially concentrated in the southern port city of Basra, and then in the densely populated Sadr City, an impoverished suburb of the capitol Baghdad. The fighting in Basra and Sadr City is significant in that it represents a decisive rejection by the masses of Iraqi Shiites of the occupation government’s ‘political process.’

The upsurge began on March 25, when puppet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched an ill-fated surprise attack in Basra against the forces of an anti-occupation religious leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr, who commands a force of roughly 60,000 fighters known as the Mahdi Army, is popular among many lower-class Iraqi Shiites in Baghdad and cities in southern Iraq.

In 2004, the Mahdi Army twice clashed with U.S. forces. During the 2004 siege of Fallujah, fighters with the Mahdi Army stood side by side with resistance fighters against U.S. forces. But soon after, al-Sadr was brought into the Green Zone puppet government and became instrumental in holding the fragile puppet government together. The Sadrist movement participated in the parliamentary elections and took control of several ministries in the puppet government.

Many resistance forces denounced Sadr and the Mahdi Army as collaborators. They said that the puppet government was using the Mahdi Army as a tool against the resistance. And in fact, through 2006 and 2007, there were numerous reports of sectarian attacks by the Mahdi Army against civilian Sunni Iraqis, and cooperation with U.S. military forces in attacking Sunni resistance groups.

But now it appears that al-Sadr is moving away from the puppet government and that the Mahdi Army is increasingly focusing its operations against the U.S. occupation. The two leading political parties in the Green Zone, the Dawa and Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, are trying to push al-Sadr out of the occupation government. This is mainly due to three political disputes.

First, al-Sadr opposes the hydrocarbon law that would open up Iraqi oil for unfettered exploitation by U.S. oil companies. Second, he is a nationalist who opposes the partition of Iraq. Third, he rejects the foreign occupation and wants the troops out. Al-Maliki and the U.S. want to get rid of al-Sadr and the power he wields. In their eyes, al-Sadr has become an obstacle to consolidating the occupation government’s authority. Finally, some resistance organizations say that a key motivation behind U.S. and Iraqi puppet government aggression against the Mahdi Army is to neutralize that force prior to a potential U.S. war against Iran.

Al-Maliki hoped he could wipe out the Mahdi Army in Basra with a quick attack, using 10,000 of the puppet Iraqi army and police forces. He was wrong. The puppet army faced stiff resistance. As news of the attack on Basra spread, a wave of armed insurrection swept across southern Iraq and up to Baghdad, where patriotic Iraqis fought the puppet security forces in solidarity with those under attack in Basra. Unable to make progress in the ground assault, al-Maliki called in U.S. air strikes on the urban strongholds of the Mahdi Army but to no avail. Despite official reports about ‘progress’ being made in the assault, the reality of the situation was revealed when the Mahdi Army captured the puppet government’s spokesperson for the security operation. The decisive point in the battle came when over 1000 Iraqi police and soldiers surrendered their arms to the Mahdi Army and pledged their support to al-Sadr. Al-Maliki then retreated to the relative safety of his bunker in Baghdad’s Green Zone, while publicly declaring ‘victory.’

Smarting from this defeat, al-Maliki has now turned his attention to Sadr City. In an act of collective punishment, al-Maliki cordoned off Sadr City from the rest of Baghdad. About 2.5 million Iraqis, mostly poor and working class Shiites, live in Sadr City, which is about half the size of Manhattan. This time his attack is being facilitated with the full cooperation and participation of the U.S. military. The siege, which has been ongoing for nearly a month, has resulted in a severe shortage of electricity, running water, medical supplies and food.

Despite the hardships endured by those in Sadr City, resistance continues. U.S. and puppet security troops attempting to enter Sadr City are forced back by small arms attacks from anti-occupation guerilla fighters. In addition, resistance fighters have pounded the Green Zone with several hundred rockets and mortars in recent weeks, forcing the U.S. to evacuate its embassy to the Baghdad International Airport.

Unable to make headway, the U.S. military is now targeting not just militants, but anyone in Sadr City. The military is using Abrams tanks, multiple rocket launch systems, air strikes, mortars and rockets up to thirteen feet long against guerrilla fighters in densely packed, urban neighborhoods. The result has been devastating. It is estimated that over 900 Iraqis have died in Basra and Sadr City alone, while scores more have been injured. Making a bad situation even worse, on May 3 the U.S. bombed a hospital compound in Sadr City, destroying a fleet of ambulances in addition to killing and wounding dozens of civilians.

For his part, Muqtada al-Sadr threatened an “open war until liberation,” stating on April 19, “We will not accept the division of Iraq or the theft of its riches, or anything but service to the people and distribution of the riches in a manner that is just and equal. And we will not accept attacks on the Iraqi people no matter from what direction or for what reason.” His statement continued, “This is in fact the aim of the honorable resistance, which should be our pride and that of all Iraqis - indeed of all Muslims and of all free people throughout the world.”

The reference to the “honorable resistance” is to distinguish the parties and organizations that make up the national, patriotic Iraqi resistance from sectarian forces like Al-Qaeda. However, serious problems remain in the creation of a front inclusive of all forces that fight to expel the occupation and liberate Iraq, as al-Sadr continues to denounce the underground Baath Party that commands some of the largest military organizations in the Iraqi resistance.

The latest news reports indicate that the U.S. and al-Maliki are preparing for a final assault on Sadr City. This would bring with it the certainty of thousands of civilian casualties. While it is unclear how the current crisis will be resolved, it seems that the increasing anti-occupation sentiment among al-Sadr’s mass base will push him closer to the national resistance and away from participation in the puppet government. If this trend continues, the prospects for the continued U.S. occupation and subjugation of Iraq are extremely poor. Without a doubt, the decisive battles are yet to take place. But the latest round of fighting has demonstrated that once again, the people of Iraq are stronger than imperialism.

inspector