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Shia militiamen killed in clash with British troops


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Shia militiamen killed in clash with British troops
By Fakher Haider in Basra and Philip Sherwell
(Filed: 09/05/2004)

Shia gunmen clashed with British troops in Basra yesterday, ordering locals to stay at home as the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attempted to open a new front against Coalition forces.

Three British soldiers were wounded and two militiamen killed as hundreds of his Mahdi army fighters launched a series of orchestrated hit-and-run attacks, apparently aimed at taking over much of Iraq‘s second city.

Shi‘ite militiamen loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry the coffin of a Mehdi militiaman.
Bursts of gunfire and explosions echoed through Basra after the fighters took to the streets at dawn and tried to storm government buildings. Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, they roamed through residential quarters and set up roadblocks.

The unrest came a day after al-Sadr‘s representative in Basra urged his followers to abduct British women soldiers as concubines and put a 250,000 dinar ( £10,000) bounty on the heads of coalition troops. On Friday night, instructions broadcast from cars equipped with loudspeakers advised residents to stay in their homes. Yesterday, the streets were deserted and many shops remained closed.

As the insurgency spread north to Amara, an ambush of a military convoy prompted British forces to storm the al-Sadr office there, killing three militiamen in a fierce gunbattle. Troops found arms caches and arrested senior al-Sadr lieutenants.

"There are only a few hundred Mahdi army militiamen here in a city of more than a million people," said Dominic d‘Angelo, the Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman in Basra. "People here don‘t want their strong-arm, bully boy tactics."

British commanders brought in reinforcements to keep control of Basra‘s centre but otherwise adopted a "softly-softly" approach, leaving local religious and tribal leaders to try to negotiate a peaceful end to the stand-off.

By nightfall, the militiamen had withdrawn from many of their makeshift blockades of burning tyres and abandoned vehicles. British troops reported that fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades had used women and children as "human shields" when they were driven off a bridge across the Shatt al-Arab river.

Al-Sadr ordered the uprising after suffering a series of military setbacks at the hands of American forces in his central Iraq strongholds and finding himself increasingly isolated by other Shia clerics and sheikhs who are critical of his tactics.

In the latest stage of the American crackdown on al-Sadr, US troops last night raided his offices in the teeming Baghdad Shia slum of Sadr City (named after the cleric‘s father, an ayatollah murdered on the orders of Saddam Hussein). Arabic media reported that two Iraqis had been killed in clashes and several leading al-Sadr aides had been arrested.

The firebrand cleric and his followers, who rose up against the US-led occupation a month ago, are under increasing pressure in the holy city of Najaf where he is in hiding. An arrest warrant has been issued for him over the murder of a rival cleric.

8 May 2004: Make women soldiers slaves, says Iraqi sheikh
7 May 2004: Americans intensify offensive as Shias denounce Sadr
28 April 2004: Iraq rebels shaken by US offensive

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Fighting erupts in Basra [8 May ‘04] - Al Jazeera

Coalition Provisional Authority

Looks like it‘s time to get heavy handed and take care of business once and for all. Rather than the Brits in Basra or the Americans in Najaf and Kufa awaiting the next hit-and-run attack from the Mehdi army, the Americans and Brits should take the fight to the Mehdi army. Eliminate these scum bags from their misery and send them on their way to their promised 72 virgins in paradise. Like the article said, it is a few hundred from the Mehdi army who are trying to impose their twisted view for the future of Iraq on the million-plus population of Basra.