Across Iraq, battles erupt with Mahdi Army
Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fought US, Iraqi forces in Baghdad and Basra on Tuesday.
The Mahdi Army's seven-month-long cease-fire appears to have come undone.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Rockets fired from the capital's Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra.
The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.
Sadr City residents say they saw fighting Tuesday between Mahdi militiamen and US and Iraqi forces in several parts of the district. One eyewitness, in the adjacent neighborhood of Baghdad Jadida, who wished to remain anonymous, said he saw a heavy militia presence on the streets, with two fighters planting roadside bombs on a main thoroughfare.
Lt. Col. Steve Stover of the Baghdad-based 4th Infantry Division said that in the span of 12 hours Tuesday 16 rockets were fired at the Green Zone and nine rockets and 18 mortar rounds fell on US bases and combat outposts on the east side of Baghdad. A mortar round hit a US patrol in the northern Adhamiyah district, killing one US soldier. A roadside bomb set a US Humvee on fire in Sadr City but all soldiers inside survived. He said clashes broke out between American forces and militiamen when they attacked several government checkpoints in the district and that some of these posts are now manned by both US and Iraqi forces.
Almost exactly four years ago, American forces and Mr. Sadr's loyalists clashed on the streets of Baghdad's Sadr City and the holy city of Najaf shortly after the US shuttered his newspaper for allegedly inciting violence. That round of fighting lasted several months and at one point the Americans were aiming to arrest Sadr, a cleric whose religious credentials come from his father who was widely influential and loved.