Friday, May 25, 2007


Iraqi military experts warn fighting will escalate in Basrah

(Gulf News) - Armed fighting between the British troops and the Mehdi Army headed by Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, will escalate in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, warned Iraqi security forces and military experts. The warning comes after London's decision to begin troop withdrawal from Iraq. Zaman Al Khuzai, a major general in the former Iraqi army, told Gulf News: "I believe Americans will shift some of their forces to Basra and other Shiite southern provinces in case the United Kingdom starts an early troop pullout from Iraq.
"Americans will keep a track of the Shiite militias, loyal to Iran, to prevent them from getting a grip on Basra and control of the situation, particularly as the government of [Prime Minister] Nouri Al Maliki is impotent and largely involved with militia infiltration in the state's institutions." He alleged: "The replacement does not amuse Al Maliki and other Shiite political and religious leaders who want to surrender the full security file to the Iraqi forces, which are accused by the British and Americans of being loyal to the dominant Shiite militias."
Sources close to Iraqi intelligence revealed that the Mehdi Army has mobilised itself and its supporters are preparing to return to Iraq immediately after an early pullout of British forces. Some do not rule out a coup attempt. Muaid Abdul Mustafa Al Dulaimi, an expert in strategic military studies, told Gulf News: "The Mehdi Army and rival Shiite militias will attempt a coup to seize control of the entire official military and security establishments in Basra and other southern Iraqi cities."
If this happens, "the [militias] will be extremely powerful and stronger than Al Maliki's government, especially as Iran will back the militias in the south more than supporting the government in Baghdad", Al Dulaimi said. It does not seem that Al Dulaimi's analysis is fully true as some reports confirm that the British withdrawal is likely to unleash a power struggle among main Shiite militia groups like the Mehdi Army and their rivals the Fadila party which engaged in clashes recently.
Some sceptics believe that the British and Americans have a role in creating the current conflict between the two Shiite groups to spark off an internal fight in the Shiite block. The security situation in Basra is growing critical and witnesses struggles for interests and power between the United States, Britain and Iran. The development may spur Americans to bring a strong central Iraqi government led by the former Baathists as its primary mission will be to suppress Shiite militias and end Iranian influence in southern Iraq.

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