An estimated 130 people have been killed in the first four days of fighting in Basra. The US air force has launched missile attacks against targets in Basra for the first time in support of the Government action and a strict curfew has been imposed on Baghdad. Witnesses report that Mehdi army forces have taken control of Nassiriya and clashes continue in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kerbala and Diwaniya. US forces have also used helicopter gunships in attacks against individuals in sadr city - Baghdad.
Juan Cole looks at the root causes and offers this overview of the political dynamics.
“My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement.
In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists coming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary.
Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'”
U.S. forces drawn deeper into Iraq crackdown
By: Peter Graff and Waleed Ibrahim, Reuters
The Humanitarian Impact:
Humanitarian Situation Set To Worsen in South
International Organization of Migration (IOM), 28 March
IOM's humanitarian activities in Iraq's southern city of Basra and as well as in other southern governorates have been put on hold as violence and curfew prevent staff and partners from providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs) and vulnerable populations.
Staff report that with the potable water network down in most parts of Basra as well as electricity being shut down, priority needs of the population is water, food and medical supplies for hospitals with the situation expected to deteriorate in the coming days. The suddenness of the crackdown had meant little to no time for people to stock up on essentials.
Humanitarian Situation in Basra and Baghdad
International Committee of the Red Cross, 28 March 2008