"Clashes with Shiite militiamen flared in two cities Wednesday as a US drone fired two missiles in Basra and US-backed Iraqi troops battled in Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City slum", Associated Press reported on April 16.
Basra province produces most of Iraq's oil. Basra city, with an estimated population of 1.7 million, is Iraq's second-largest city and its only seaport, through which 90% of the country's oil exports are shipped.
Two days earlier, AP had reported that the "Basra offensive — which opened on March 25 — quickly stalled amid strong resistance from the outnumbered militiamen, despite artillery and air support provided by US and British forces.
"During the attack more than 1000 security troops — including a full infantry battalion — refused to fight or joined the militias, handing them weapons and vehicles …
"The failure of government forces to capture Basra despite superiority in numbers and firepower was an embarrassment to Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, who ordered the offensive and personally supervised it during the first week."
The Basra offensive involved the mobilisation of at least 30,000 Iraqi Army troops and paramilitary National Police (NP) commandos, led by US special forces units and with soldiers from the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division acting as "combat advisers", according to the April 1 New York Times.
The April 14 NYT reported that Maliki's "government has dismissed 1300 soldiers and policemen who deserted or refused to fight during last month's Shiite-on-Shiite battles in Basra". Those dismissed included 37 senior commanders, up to the rank of brigadier general. An interior ministry statement said the dismissed soldiers and police had shown "solidarity with outlaws".
Most of the police officers who were dismissed were local Basra personnel, rather than NP officers. The NP is dominated by members of the Badr Organisation, the militia of Abdul-Aziz Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISIC), the dominant party in Maliki's governing coalition of Shiite religious parties.
The Maliki government publicly presented the Basra offensive as aimed at cracking down on "criminal gangs". In reality, the offensive was aimed at crushing the militias linked to Shiite opposition partes, particularly Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.
In a March 28 "daily analysis" piece posted on the website of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, the US political establishment's leading foreign-policy think tank, CFR staff writer Greg Bruno noted that armed clashes between the Sadrists and the ISIC-controlled NP have repeatedly flared up across Iraq's southern provinces.
Writing in the March 30 New York Times, Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported that: "American military and civilian officials were candid in telling me that the governors and other local officials installed by the central government in Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq had no popular base. If open local and provincial elections were held, they said, [Maliki's] Dawa party and the ISIC were likely to be routed" by the Sadrists.
In a further indication that the failed US-backed Maliki-ISIC Basra "power showdown" was motivated by the goal of blocking a Sadrist victory in an October Basra provincial election, Reuters reported on April 13 that "Iraq's cabinet has agreed to a draft law on provincial elections that bans any parties from the polls if they have militias, officials said on Sunday… Foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the draft had set Oct. 1 as the election date. The law would be given to parliament for approval 'very soon', he told Reuters after a cabinet meeting."
Reuters noted that, "Major players such as Sadr's movement and Sunni Arab tribal groups will be competing for the first time and are expected to make gains at the expense of those now in power".
Agence France Presse reported on April 13 that battles between Mahdi Army fighters and US troops had "raged" on the southern outskirts of Badghad's 2-million strong Sadr City slum district for a week. The next day, AFP reported that US commanders said their troops were seeking to push back "terrorists" and "criminals" who had fired at least 308 rockets and 288 mortar shells since March 23 into the Green Zone. They said 70% of the rockets and mortars had come from Sadr City.
The heavily fortified Green Zone (officially, the "International Zone") is a 10 square kilometre area in the centre of Baghdad that houses the US embassy, the US occupation command headquarters, and the residences and offices of Washington's puppet Iraqi government.
AFP reported that US military officials claim that the 107mm rockets, which can travel up to 14 km, are largely manufactured in Iran. AFP also noted that the "US rationale for war in Iraq has morphed from ousting strongman Saddam Hussein, to countering Al-Qaeda militants to its latest incarnation — facing down what officials in President George W. Bush's administration call the Iranian 'threat'."
"Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: Al-Qaeda and Iran", Bush declared on April 10. Alleged "Iranian-financed extremists, which top US commander in Iraq David Petraeus has called 'special groups', have emerged as a key reason for maintaining US troop levels in Iraq" at 140,000 from July, AFP reported.
On April 13, US war secretary Robert Gates said that the recent Basra offensive had revealed "the level of Iranian malign influence in the south [of Iraq] and on their economic heart line through Basra".
Unable to publicly admit that the big majority of Iraqis are opposed to the US-led foreign occupation of their country and support attacks on these foreign occupation forces, US officials attribute all the "violence" in Iraq to the "malign influence" of anti-US foreigners.
It has been widely reported that it was Iran that brokered a tentative ceasefire between the Mahdi Army and the Makili government after the latter's Basra offensive, effusively praised by Bush, stalled in the face of fierce Mahdi Army resistance. The April 12 Washington Post reported that this has caused US officials considerable "consternation".