Col. Abbas al-Tamimi, media officer for the 14th Iraqi Army Division operating in the city, said he expected the fighting to escalate. “The gunmen have heavier and more sophisticated weapons than we have,” he said.
You have GOT to be kidding me. The Iraqi Army--with al-Maliki calling the shots and in the ceremonial lead of it--starts a confrontation in Basra with the Mahdi Army and they're outgunned?
Not only does Robert Gates need to stand down and account for every piece of American nuclear material and equipment, he needs to order the US military in Iraq to do the same--and account for every weapon we've given the Iraqi Army.
The NY Times says:
BAGHDAD — An assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers to regain control of the southern port city of Basra stalled Wednesday as Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army fought daylong hit-and-run battles and refused to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power there.
American officials have presented the Iraqi Army’s attempts to secure the port city as an example of its ability to carry out a major operation against the insurgency on its own. A failure there would be a serious embarrassment for the Iraqi government and for the army, as well as for American forces eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively on their own.
During a briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, a British military official said that of the nearly 30,000 Iraqi security forces involved in the assault, almost 16,000 were Basra police forces, which have long been suspected of being infiltrated by the same militias the assault was intended to root out.
The operation is a significant political test for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who traveled to Basra to oversee the beginning of the assault. It is also a gamble for both the Iraqi and American governments. The Americans distrust the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, who consider the Americans occupiers.
The dominant Shiite groups in Mr. Maliki’s government are political and military rivals of Mr. Sadr, and Mr. Maliki is freer now to move against him because Mr. Sadr’s party is no longer a crucial part of his coalition.
But if the Mahdi Army breaks completely with the cease-fire that has helped to tamp down attacks in Iraq during the past year, there is a risk of replaying 2004, when the militia fought intense battles with American forces that destabilized the entire country and ushered in years of escalating violence. Renewed attacks, in turn, would make it more difficult to begin sending home large numbers of American troops.
Mr. Maliki issued an ultimatum on Wednesday for Shiite militias in Basra to put down their weapons within 72 hours. Yet battles continued, killing at least 40 people and wounding 200 others, hospital officials said.
Though American and Iraqi officials have insisted that the operation was not singling out a particular group, fighting appeared to focus on Mahdi-controlled neighborhoods. In fact, some witnesses said, neighborhoods controlled by rival political groups seemed to be giving government forces safe passage, as if they were helping them to strike at the Mahdi Army.
Even so, the Mahdi fighters seemed to hold their ground. Witnesses said that from the worn, closely packed brick buildings of one Mahdi stronghold, the Hayaniya neighborhood, Mahdi fighters fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and sniper rifles at seemingly helpless Iraqi Army units pinned on a main road outside, their armored vehicles unable to enter the narrow streets.
The assault has also sparked continuing violence by outraged Mahdi commanders in other major cities, including Baghdad, where the sprawling urban slum called Sadr City forms the militia’s power center in Iraq.
Most casualties in Basra were civilians caught in the cross-fire, hospital officials said. The heaviest fighting outside Basra appeared to be taking place in Kut, where officials said 10 people had been killed and 31 wounded, mostly by mortar shells.
There were also deadly clashes in Diwaniya, Hilla and Amara, and the booms of rocket fire rattled Baghdad all day. The American military said in a statement that 16 rockets had been fired into the fortified Green Zone alone, wounding one American soldier, two American civilians and an Iraqi Army soldier.
Unbelievable. I just don't have words for this anymore. The unravelling of Iraq has been so quick and so definitive so far, I just hope and pray they can stop this before it gets worse.
The problem is this--there are no US troops to send. The well has run dry. And that is a screaming indictment of the Bush Administration and the abject failure they have become.