Shi’ite Muslim militants clashed in the Iraqi city of Basra, leaving at least four dead, security officials said on Thursday, as violence from a worsening political crisis hit the south of the country. Things have been tense ever since two days of intense street fighting in Baghdad earlier in the week, the worst the Iraqi capital has seen for years.
The crisis is basically a power struggle between the powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and mostly Iran-aligned Shi’ite parties and paramilitary groups. Both sides have tried to exert their control over formation of a new government since an election in October, Reuters reported. The struggle began with political moves in parliament and the judiciary and then went to the streets after Sadr withdrew from the political process and staged protests during the summer. It led to massive violence at the end of August.
The violence is centred in Baghdad and the south, that is areas dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ite majority which has ruled the country since Saddam’s regime was swept away.
“The security situation in Basra is really bad, and could escalate,” one of the security officials spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media.
The security officials in Basra said the deadliest clashes took place overnight in the centre of the city. Two of those killed were members of Sadr’s Peace Brigades militia, they said. Basra is Iraq’s main oil-producing hub.
unkindwhile, government buildings were attacked in Basra where security forces and paramilitary groups with links to Iran are stationed. Identity of the gunmen firing on the government buildings could not be immediately verified, but the officials said they believed they were Sadr supporters.
The leader of one Iran-backed militia group and one of Sadr’s main Shi’ite rivals, Qais al-Khazali, has ordered all offices of his group to close and he urged supporters not to retaliate if they were attacked.
Armed supporters of Sadr have attacked offices belonging to Iran-aligned groups in recent days, security officials say.
In the southern city of Nassiriya, his followers raided a local headquarters for paramilitaries with ties to Iran and seized cars and weapons, according to Sadrist and Iran-aligned security officials in the city.
In Baghdad on Monday and Tuesday, clashes broke out after Sadr announced his full withdrawal from political life. His armed supporters fought with security forces and Iran-aligned gunmen.
(With inputs from agencies)