British troops have garrisoned the province of Basra since the end of major combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This southern Shi’ite province, the second most populous in the country, bore heavy oppression, in livelihood and in blood, under the Ba’athist regime. It has been relatively stable since the fall of Saddam. But one hundred and fourteen British troops have died during Operation Iraqi Freedom, most of them victims of sporadic terror attacks.
On July 18th, soldiers of Britain’s 20th Armor Brigade seized more than two tons of weapons in a raid in the northeast suburbs of Basra. Mortars, hand grenades, rockets, IED’s, and bomb-making equipment were part of the ordnance cache British troops discovered and destroyed.
The Brits took fire, but suffered no casualties. Three terrorists were apprehended.
“Multi-National forces will combat the threat from terrorists,” said British Brig. Gen. James Everard. “Alongside the governor of Basra and members of the provincial security council… we will combat those who attempt to incite sedition and destabilize the security situation.”
Schism in Sunni Insurgent Ranks
The Iraqi Islamic Party is the principal Sunni block in the Iraqi National Council. It has been historically linked to the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), a Sunni clerical group supportive of assaults on Multi-National troops and Iraqi Security Forces. Indeed, it has been considered the “political” arm of the terrorist AMS – a relationship similar to that of Sinn Fein to the Irish Republican Army.
Last week, Omar al-Jubori, spokesman for the Islamic Party, broke decisively with the AMS, and its secretary Harith al-Dhari.
According to al-Jubori, “Harith al-Dhari is responsible for 50% of Sunni deaths in Iraq.” He blamed the AMS for the under-participation of Sunni’s in the new Iraqi Security Forces.
This is an understatement. It the crucial days of its formation, the AMS was more eager to blow up Iraqi Security Force recruits than to people the new, pro-government police with Sunni Arabs. The result is a police force peopled by Shi’ites and Kurds, many with old scores to settle against former Ba’athists and their families.
Al-Jabori went further, praising the U.S. presence as a moderating influence – a defender of the Sunni minority. He said,
“Sunni political powers now demand that American troops remain in Iraq for some time…The American forces represent a balancing element between the people and the security forces that are not balanced in their sectarian composition… the Americans should work on correcting this imbalance.”
Sunni resistance to the M-N Forces and the al-Maliki government continues to crumble as Sunni leaders recognize the new regime and its defenders as the sole path to a normalized future.
Crackdown on the Mahdi Army
Amid rumors that American troop strength in the Baghdad sector is building, coalition actions against both Shi’ite and Sunni paramilitary groups are quickening.
On Saturday, July 22, U.S. troops attacked Shi’ite paramilitary gunmen associated with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. In Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, an office of al-Sadr’s party was raided. In Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad, American troops killed 15 gunmen in a three-hour fire fight.
That same day, British forces arrested the Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad.