Iraqis Seize Moqtada al-Sadr Stronghold in Basra

Welcome news.  Iraqi forces, backed by British troops and artillery and supported by British and U.S. aircraft, have routed Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from its long-time stronghold in Basra. In taking control of Basra, Iraqi forces achieved an objective that had eluded them during a crackdown last month:

IRAQI forces backed by British troops and artillery seized the main stronghold of the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern port city of Basra yesterday.

The operation, which also involved RAF and American aircraft, forced the cleric’s Mahdi army militants to cede control of a district where they had fought off an Iraqi onslaught last month.

A senior Mahdi source in Basra said British soldiers – believed to be SAS troops directing attacks – had accompanied the Iraqis as they moved into the district of Hayaniya.  . . . .

The oil city awoke yesterday to heavy artillery and air strikes directed at Mahdi rocket launchers. The Iraqis then moved in with relative ease.

Witnesses said huge quantities of weapons, including hundreds of rockets and mortars, had been found abandoned. Some had been left in the street by fleeing militiamen. p>

Basra is 340 miles (550 km) southeast of Baghdad.

Moqtada al-Sadr, stung by the defeat, is already responding with a threat of all-out war.   In light of his recent defeat on the ground, however, it’s unclear whether al-Sadr has the wherewithal to carry through on his threats.

Will this be the last gasp of a petty tyrant and a step toward a strong and free democracy in Iaq?  The answer depends largely on the resolve and commitment of Iraq, Britain, and the United States.

Cross-posted at GINA COBB

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