Basra, Apr 19, (VOI) – The British forces revealed on Saturday that their artillery, warplanes and ground troops were taking part in the "3rd stage" of Operation Saulat al-Forsan (Knights' Assault) in western Basra areas, particularly al-Hussein neighborhood, the stronghold of the Sadrists, or Iraqis loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
"The 3rd stage of Operation Saulat al-Forsan has begun at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday when the British forces opened artillery and U.S. warplanes opened fire at an uninhabited area west of al-Hussein neighborhood, western Basra," Cap. Chris Ford, the official spokesman for the British forces in southern Iraq, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).
"British and U.S. provisional military training teams worked together with the Iraqi army units to provide backing for them," said Ford.
A police official in Basra earlier said that Iraqi forces started during the early hours of Saturday wide-scale search raids in different areas of western Basra, which included the neighborhoods of al-Hussein and al-Asdiqaa and al-Khalij al-Arabi area, referring to ground-air backing from the Multi-National Force (MNF) to the Iraqi forces.
Linked together, those densely-populated western Basra areas are considered important strongholds for the Mahdi Army fighters in the province.
Armed confrontations have flared up late last month in Basra, Iraq's second largest city and oil hub, between government forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army militias. The clashes coincided with angry upheavals in several southern provinces, where Sadr supporters spread.
The Iraqi authorities declared a curfew in Baghdad and the provinces of Basra, Wassit, Babel, Diwaniya, Thi-Qar and Karbala to avoid further clashes that left dozens killed and wounded during these confrontations.
The clashes broke out hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a plan codenamed Saulat al-Forsan, which he said targeted the elimination of armed groups in Basra, 590 km south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
British soldiers were stationed in one base - the Basra International Airport, 25 km northeast of the province - after handing over the former presidential palaces, which they took as a military base, to the Iraqi forces.
The British forces in the port city keep 5,250 troops within the MNF in Iraq after withdrawing 1,600 soldiers during the past months.
Britain was the United States' prime ally in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Ceremonies to hand over security responsibilities in Basra province from the British forces to the Iraqi authorities took place at the Basra International Airport in December 2007.
TAGS: Middle-East Iraq