Iraqi forces see victory in Basra
April 25 2008
Many of them say the operation has boosted their confidence, but the
militiamen warn that the only reason the fledgling Iraqi army had any success
was because they continue to observe a ceasefire order by the radical cleric
Soldier Hassan Sha’an said the past four weeks has tested the training he
received from British forces in conducting raids and pulling security for an
important person. The 25-year-old is part of team charged with guarding the
Iraqi commander of forces in
“When we conducted raids I remembered what we had been taught about covering
our backs and looking out for our colleagues,” Mr Sha’an said.
“After the achievements of the Charge of the Knights operation I feel as a
soldier more confident to go on raids and patrols or search for people.”
Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, launched the
Encouragingly, the first wave of attacks caught the militants off-guard, but
two days later they launched a counter offensive, prompting at least one entire
Iraqi Army battalion of 1,400 men to flee.
Threats by Mr Maliki to disarm rang hollow and the mission appeared to be on
the brink of failure before thousands of Iraqi re-enforcements backed by
hundreds of American and British soldiers joined the fight at the start of
“They [the militiamen] collapsed,” said Lt-Gen Furaiji, claiming that the
gunmen were a fraction of the 12,000-strong force that some had anticipated.
Rogue elements of the al-Mehdi Army militia, loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, are
accused of being behind much of the violence and intimidation in
The Iraqi commander said: “Those who fought are from special groups who
received training in
“I expect to be arrested at any moment,” said Sheikh Ali al-Saedi, who was
forced to move to the holy city of
Hojatoleslam al-Sadr has threatened “open war” unless the Government stops
targeting his militia. Lt-Gen Furaiji is unconcerned, saying: “What is he
waiting for? Let him fight.”
Iraqi commanders insist that their operation is against anyone who defies
the law and is not just targeting the Mehdi Army. It is unclear however to what
extent the other militias in
One thing is certain, for the first time in four years residents and tribesmen
feel brave enough to turn against the militants. Many have handed in weapons in
return for cash or point out where stockpiles of bombs and rockets are hidden.
In a new sweep that began yesterday, seven Iraqi battalions entered a large
market area – one of three remaining Mehdi Army bastions in Basra – where they
found four large hauls of munitions including 20 rockets of the type that were
being fired at Britain’s military base at the airport on a near daily basis.
Tellingly, the rocket fire has all but stopped since March 25.
A number of
roadside bombs, of the sort that killed a
Looking around a makeshift, arms storage-house next to an old hotel, which is being used as the operational headquarters, I saw rooms filled with seized roadside bombs, AK47 rifles, rockets, mortar tubes and landmines.
Much of the bomb material is thought to have come from
Lt-Gen Furaiji keeps a small collection of Iranian-made mortars in his office at the Shat al-Arab hotel, which sits on the bank of the Shat al-Arab waterway. He said: “Thanks to the Iranians for handing over all these weapons to us.”
Last modified 2008-04-29 05:43 AM