A mass revolt has broken out across Iraq against attempts by the US and its allies to crush the Shia Muslim resistance to the occupation.
This began when Iraqi troops backed by US forces laid siege to Basra earlier this week. British troops were driven out of Basra late last year.
The Iraqi government claims that the current violence is a fight between different Shia Muslim factions, and an attempt by the government to cleanse Basra of “criminal elements”.
It is nothing of the sort. The occupation is attempting to provoke Shia Muslim areas into a “showdown” that has been a central aim of the US troop “surge”.
The aim of the siege is to crush the nationalist movement headed by rebel Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sadr’s Mehdi Army is a key element in the popular resistance to the occupation.
The Mehdi Army fought alongside Sunni Muslim insurgents during the first uprising against the occupation in 2004.
Sadr recently launched the Reform and Reconciliation Project with sections of the Sunni resistance.
According to reports, Iraqi troops stormed Basra’s main market on Tuesday – the first day of the assault. Soldiers set fire to the stores of food, cut electricity and water supplies. They are attempting to drive out the 2.5 million civilians trapped inside the city. There are reports that US troops have now taken over from Iraqi soldiers after they failed to capture the city.
In a message relayed to Socialist Worker from Hassan Jumaa, the leader of Iraq’s main oil workers’ union, said that Basra rose in revolt.
“The assault began with intense shelling and fire from all sorts of weapons,” the message states.
“The army that is laying siege to Basra is so large that it stretches from the Dhi Qar province all the way to the city.
“The heroic neighbourhood of Hayania is preventing the puppet Iraqi army from entering the city. There is great popular discontent. Non stop phone contacts since Tuesday shows this very clearly.”
Hayania is one of the poorest area of Basra and a stronghold of the Mehdi Army.
Jumaa said, “The [poor] neighbourhoods of Khamsa Meel and Qiblas are steadfast. Fighting is going on where I live.”
The attack on Basra has sparked a mass revolt across the Shia majority areas of Iraq.
There are reports of uprisings in the cities of Nassiriya, Kut, Hilla, Diwaniya, Amara and Kerbala. Meanwhile the resistance in the vast Sadr City slums of the Baghdad has driven out Iraqi police and the military following demonstrations of hundreds of thousands on Thursday and Friday of this week.
US troops have surrounded Sadr City’s densely populated neighbourhoods, while warplanes have been dropping bombs on Shia neighbourhoods.
On Wednesday up to 60 people were killed in an air strike on a district south of the capital. On Thursday night US planes pounded Basra’s poor neighbourhoods and Sadr City.
This latest fighting exposes the lie being pushed by George Bush and Gordon Brown that the surge has brought peace to Iraq.
See next week's Socialist Worker for more on the revolt and Hassan Jumaa's message