Maliki Extends Militants' Deadline

  • Share
  • Read Later
Essam Al-Sudani / AFP / Getty

Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen seek cover during a gun battle with government forces in Basra's Al-Jumhuriyah neighborhood on March 28, 2008.

Baghdad was on lockdown and journalists denied access to military embeds Friday morning, as the country braced against mounting chaos in the capital and in the south of the country. The Iraqi government has placed the city under a curfew, banning all civilian vehicle use, until Sunday morning. The south of Iraq, where heavy fighting between Iraqi forces and militias loyal to powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has raged since Tuesday, is also under curfew. Over one hundred people are reported to have been killed, and hundreds more injured, as Iraqi forces led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struggle to take control of the city.

Maliki has also extended his deadline for Basra fighters to lay down their arms by ten days. Originally the deadline was set to expire today. But Iraqi media sources say Mahdi Army fighters are holding large swaths of the city and the battle appears far from over.

The media liaison for Iraqi forces in Basra, Colonel Abbas Ahmed, told TIME that Iraqi forces control about 75% of the city and that they have captured "many fighters from the Mahdi Army [Sadr's militia]." Coalition forces are currently providing air and logistical support to Iraqi forces in Basra, but whether or not Iraq would request more substantial ground support in the coming days "would depend on the situation," he confirmed.

Colonel Abbas Ahmed also said that armed fighters had blown up part of an oil pipeline in Basra province on Thursday. Reports from wire sources indicate the attack has seriously disrupted the flow of oil for the first time since 2004, and could lead to a cut in a third of oil exports from Iraq's southern port.

In Baghdad, the heavily fortified Green Zone has continued to come under fire by rockets, and U.S. embassy employees have been urged to take cover in more secure shelters — away from their trailers — while violent clashes have been reported between Iraqi forces and Sadr supporters in the districts of Khadamiya and al-Shula.

A relative of the Iraqi civilian spokesman for security, Tahsin al-Sheikhli, who was kidnapped from his Baghdad home on Thursday, told TIME that the family suspected breakaway elements of the Mahdi Army to be behind the kidnapping. The gunmen also beat members of Sheikhli's family, killed three of his bodyguards — also from the Mahdi Army — and set the home on fire. So far no demands have been made.

In northern Iraq, Coalition forces say they killed eight armed men, at least one of which they believe to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, during an targeted attack Thursday southwest of the remote village of Tuz. Six others who the U.S. military says are affiliated with al-Qaeda were captured through two operations in the Mosul area.