Basra, Mar 27, (VOI) - A new civil war is threatening to explode in Iraq as the American-backed Iraqi government coerces fighting Shiite militiamen to gain control of Basra and parts of Baghdad, The Independent newspaper said on Thursday.
The gun battles between soldiers and militiamen, who are all Shiite Muslims, show that Iraq's majority Shiite community which replaced Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime is splitting apart for the first time, it added.
Al-Sadr's followers believe the government is trying to eliminate them before the scheduled elections in southern Iraq later this year, which they are expected to win, the paper noted.
The mixed area of al-Mansur in west Baghdad, where shops had begun to reopen in recent months, was deserted yesterday as Mahdi Army fighters were rumored among local people to be moving in from the nearby Shiite stronghold of Washash. "We expect an attack by the Shiite in spite of the Americans being spread over Sunni districts to defend them," said a Sunni resident.
Sadeq al-Rikabi, an adviser to al-Maliki, said those who kept their weapons would be arrested. "Any gunman who does not do that within three days will be an outlaw."
Al-Sadr has sent emissaries to Maliki asking him to remove his troops, numbering some 15,000 men from Basra, and to resolve problems peacefully. But his aides say there will be no talks until the Iraqi army reinforcements are withdrawn, the newspaper said.
The U.S. is claiming that the Sadrists are not being singled out, only Iran-supported militia factions, but this will find few believers in Iraq, it highlighted.
The fighting is threatening to disrupt Iraq's oil production, most of which comes from the Basra area, because workers in the oilfields dare not leave their homes, it concluded.
Jay Gory, The Cheers News
TAGS: Middle-East Iraq