The US is laying siege to the Baghdad slum of Sadr City in an attempt to crush the Iraqi resistance.
Thousands of US troops and their Iraqi allies are surrounding the Shia Muslim neighbourhoods in a new battle for control of the capital.
The siege began when the Iraqi army collapsed after it was ordered to invade the southern city of Basra three weeks ago.
The Iraqi puppet government hoped that by taking the city it could deal a severe blow to rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Instead a string of towns and cities across the south of the country have risen in rebellion.
Thousands of Iraqi troops defected to the resistance taking their weapons and equipment with them.
It was a humiliation for the US-backed government.
The uprising crushed US hopes that its “surge” of troops in Iraq had stabilised the occupation.
Now the battle is being waged around the Green Zone, the walled embassy complex in the heart of the capital. The Green Zone is where the occupation is based.
The US has admitted that since 23 March resistance fighters have peppered the Green Zone with at least 308 rockets and 288 mortar shells.
Attempts by the US army to drive into Sadr City and destroy the rocket and mortar batteries have failed.
A helicopter gunship destroyed US military vehicles in a botched attempt to silence the barrage.
Soldiers surrounded the slum—but they were driven off by thousands of resistance fighters when they attempted to take key positions.
The battles have killed scores of US troops and left over 800 Iraqis dead.
General Jeffery Hammond, the US commander in Baghdad, pledged “to push the 107-mm rockets out of range”. But on Monday he said that there were “no plans to go beyond where we are”.
Moqtada al-Sadr has called on his supporters in the Mehdi Army to observe a ceasefire, which has been in place since last August.
He has ordered his fighters to withdraw from the battles with the Iraqi army, and offered talks with the government.
But these were turned down. Now the US is insisting that his forces be disarmed.
The US has blamed Iran for its recent reversals, a charge which is rejected by the Iraqi resistance.
In a statement addressed to US defence secretary Robert Gates, Sadr said, “You will always be an enemy and you will remain so until the last drop of my blood.
“If you don’t withdraw from our land or set a timetable for withdrawal acceptable to the Iraqi people, we will resist in the way we see fit.”
The battle for control of Sadr City has destroyed plans by the US to draw down the number of occupation troops in a key election year.
George Bush hoped that his “surge” of 38,000 troops would keep a lid on the resistance and allow him to claim that the occupation of Iraq had turned a corner.
The US has 160,000 troops in Iraq. Bush hoped that 20,000 would be heading home by July. He declared that the battle against the Mehdi Army was a “decisive moment” for the occupation. This strategy is now in tatters.
Two British soldiers die in Afghanistan
Two British soldiers have been killed in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, as they patrolled an area just over a mile from their base.
The attack happened as Taliban fighters stormed a police outpost north of the city, killing 11 policemen and destroying their compound.
The deaths of the two RAF men brings to 93 the number of British soldiers killed since the occupation of Afghanistan began in 2001.
According to the United Nations over 8,000 people, including 220 foreign troops, have been killed in the country over the last year.
Meanwhile the Red Cross has issued a stinging report on the treatment of 600 Afghan prisoners languishing in the US’s Bagram military base.
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the Red Cross, said, “They do not know what the future brings, how long will they be there, and under which conditions will they be released.”
Now Nato, the military alliance that runs the occupation, is pouring in thousands more troops in an attempt to contain an expected “spring offensive” by insurgents.