- Title: IRAQ: Violence continues in Baghdad, as Mehdi army gunmen impose control on Basra
- Date: 29th March 2008
- Summary: (BN09) SADR CITY, BAGHDAD, IRAQ (MARCH 29, 2008) (REUTERS) IRAQI SOLDIERS WALKING TO THE OFFICE OF MOQTADA AL-SADR IN SADR CITY (AS CROWD CHANTS "GOD IS GREATEST") SOLDIERS WALKING TO MOQTADA AL-SADR OFFICE MEMBERS OF SADR'S OFFICE RECEIVING SOLDIERS (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) UNIDENTIFIED IRAQI SOLDIER SAYING: "We will not be used by the occupier and their agents, so we decided to hand our weapons to the office of Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr." MEMBERS OF SADR OFFICE GIVING SOLDIERS HOLY BOOKS OF QURAN AND OLIVE BRANCHES CROWD WALKS INTO OFFICE
- Embargoed: 13th April 2008 13:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: War / Fighting
- Reuters ID: LVA8S4YX8VO50CESWKDLZWUKHC4E
- Story Text: Mehdi army continue conflict with Iraqi security forces in Iraq.
Gunmen attacked a military base in the northern Shi'ite Shaab district early on Saturday (March 29), police and witnesses said.
In Baghdad there have been clashes in at least 13 mainly Shi'ite neighbourhoods, especially Sadr City, the vast slum named for the cleric Moqtada al Sadr's slain father and his main power base.
A U.S. airstrike targeted militants in Sadr city early on Saturday (March 29) as well, but there were no reported casualties.
Police and witnesses said many houses and properties were damaged in the attack.
And in the southern city of Basra, a resident said U.S. forces killed her husband and three sons when raiding her house.
"(They killed my three sons). Two of them were here and the third one was inside the bathroom. They bound their hands and killed them,"
Manahel Khudeir said.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki raised the stakes in his five-day-old crackdown on the militia, describing his foes as "worse than al Qaeda".
"Our patience has worn thin and we have paid a big price," he said. "I think we should hold all the responsibility. We had to say 'No' from the beginning and take an action. We had to tell our sons from the beginning not to follow the ignorant, evil and hired people. You should work on building the future of your sons and country. You should not go to the wrong direction and become a reason behind destroying this country,"
Maliki said during a televised meeting with tribal leaders in Basra, where he has personally overseen the crackdown since Tuesday.
Maliki added, "We used to talk about al Qaeda. Unfortunately it seems there are some among us who are worse than al Qaeda. Al-Qaeda kills innocent, al-Qaeda destroys buildings and they are doing the same. Al-Qaeda wants to foil the political process and they want to do the same thing."
After years in which Iraq was torn apart by violence between Shi'ites and Sunni militants like al Qaeda, the past week's violence has exposed another bloody rift -- among Shi'ites themselves. Parties behind Maliki's government are battling followers of Sadr, who in many Shi'ite areas rule the streets.
A Sadr aide said his representatives had made an overture to the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, country's highest Shi'ite authority, in a bid to end the violence.
Maliki has announced he will fight the militants in Basra "until the end". He issued orders to his commanders in Baghdad to pursue militants in the capital with "no mercy".
"If they insist on refusing, we will continue this operation so that we can reach to an end with them here and in all over Iraq," he said.
But Mehdi Army fighters in black masks still control the streets of much of Iraq's second-biggest city, Basra, manning checkpoints and openly brandishing rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers.
Meanwhile, in Sadr city, a group of Iraqi soldiers handed their weapons to the offices of Moqtada al-Sadr, saying they didn't want to fight with the occupiers and their agents.
"We will not be used by the occupier and their agents, so we decided to hand our weapons to the office of Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr,"
said a soldier after handing in his weapons.
In return, the Sadr office distributed holy books of the Quran and olive branches to the soldiers in a show of peace and brotherhood.
U.S. forces said they had killed 48 militants in air strikes and gun battles across the capital the previous day (March 28), a sign of the mounting violence and growing involvement of American troops in the government's crackdown on Sadr's Mehdi Army.
At least 133 dead bodies and 647 wounded victims have been brought to five hospitals in the eastern half of Baghdad over the past five days, the head of the health directorate for eastern Baghdad, Ali Bustan, said.
Health workers say hospitals are overflowing and understaffed in Sadr City and a ring of Iraqi and U.S. forces around the area makes it impossible to evacuate the wounded.
More than 300 people have been reported killed and many hundreds wounded in the five days of fighting across southern Iraq and Baghdad in Basra.
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