British troops have been rendered ineffective in southern Iraq while Shi’a militant armies battle each other for control of the oil-rich region.
Violence dramtically escalated in the streets of Basra amidst anti-British sentiment following the dramatic rescue of the two British Special Air Service (SAS) agents from Shi?a custody in mid-September (see previous post – Fallout from Basra). The Britons benign reputation since the beginning of the war in 2003 was immediately put in doubt. ?We believe these soldiers were planning an attack on a market or other civilian targets,? Sheik Hassan al-Zarqani, spokesman for the Mehdi Army told Al-Jazeera.
A senior official from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army stated al-Sadr’s intention to use the captured agents as barter for Sheikh Ahmed Majid Farttusi and Sayyid Sajjad, two of al-Sadr?s men that were recently detained by the British in Basra. Al-Sadr, the radical Shi?ite cleric and commander of the 10,000 troop Mahdi Army that battled coalition forces in Najaf last year, has restated his authorization for capture of two Britons according to the Sunday Times. The Mahdi army official says two British private contractors working in Baghdad have already been pinpointed.
The Shi’ites have been widely regarded as helpless people with an intense inferiority complex despite the fact that they account for the majority of Iraqi citizens, Mahan Abedin, editor of Terrorism Monitor writes in the Monday Asia Times. A ?senior? Iraqi Shi’ite political figure warned on the Baztab news site that the suddenly hostile appearance of the British troops could bring Iraqi Shi’ites to the tipping point in the ?200-year? rage against British imperialism.
Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army is battling the 12,000-strong Badr Brigade for control of the region. The more secular Badr militia is the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq’s main Shi’ite political party.
Along with Iranian insurgents, members of these armies have infiltrated the British-trained Iraqi police force and security forces so as to isolate themselves from the U.S. led coalition as well as the Iraqi government in Baghdad. A “senior source in Basra” suggested to the Sunday London Telegraph that there are probably more Iranian spies than British troops in the city.
Iraq?s National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told the BBC, ?Iraqi security forces in general, and the police in particular, in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit, have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well.?
University professors in Basra have told journalists off the record that ?secession of the Shi’ite south is not a far-fetched scenario,? reports the October 2 Washington Times.
Forgotten but not gone are the Kurds, who currently have a prominent presence in the Iraqi “government,” though they are not likely to maintain it. “There is no Iraq,” states one editorial on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s website. While U.S. troops continue fighting Sunni fundamentalists on the Syrian border, war is spiraling out of control in the southern region, with 70 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves up for grabs.
Sarah Meyer has put together a detailed, graphic timeline of recent events in Basra (link).