- BAGHDAD -- Violence is spreading
further across Iraq, as Shi'ite Arab tribes in the south begin to engage
occupation forces in new armed resistance.
- Resistance in the southern parts of Iraq has been escalating
over the last three months, leading to increased casualties among British
and other occupation forces.
- In the last seven months, at least 24 British soldiers
have been killed in southern Iraq, with at least as many wounded, according
to the independent website Iraq Coalition Casualties. So far at least 128
British soldiers have died in Iraq, along with 123 of other nationalities.
Most of these have been stationed in southern Iraq.
- Casualties earlier were far lower.
- Attacks against occupation forces appear to stem from
a growing nationalism.
- "This is not about vengeance," a former Iraqi
army officer from Kut, 200 km south of Baghdad told IPS in Baghdad. "People
have lost hope in the US-led occupation's promises, and they are thinking
of saving the country from Iranian influence which has been supported,
or at least allowed by the Multinational Forces."
- British and US military leaders tend not to say who has
been targeting their forces in the south. They simply call the resistance
fighters "terrorists," or they point to the Mahdi Army led by
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as the only source of disturbance in the
- While members of the Mahdi Army certainly carry out attacks
against occupation forces in southern Iraq, other homegrown resistance
seems to have taken root, fed also by earlier memories.
- "People here have always hated the US and British
occupation of Iraq, and remembered their grandfathers who fought the British
troops with the simplest weapons," Jassim al-Assadi, a school headmaster
from Kut told IPS on a recent visit to Baghdad.
- Al-Assadi was referring to the Shi'ite resistance that
eventually played a key role in expelling British forces from Iraq during
the 1920s and 1930s.
- Armed resistance against the occupation in the south
was slow to begin with because religious clerics instructed their followers
to give the occupation time to fulfill promises made by the Bush and Blair
administrations, al-Assadi said.
- "But now they do not believe any cleric's promises
any more. They have started fighting, and that is that."
- A political analyst in Baghdad, who asked to be referred
to as W. al-Tamimi, told IPS that he believes occupation forces have been
working in tandem with death squads. "We have been observing American
and British occupation forces supporting those death squads all over Iraq,
but we were still hoping for reconciliation."
- Al-Tamimi said the sheikh of his tribe, which is both
Shi'ite and Sunni, was "under great pressure by the tribe's young
men to let them join the resistance."
- The force of the growing resistance in the south has
become more and more evident. Late last August 1,200 British soldiers known
as The Queen's Royal Hussars abruptly evacuated their three-year-old base
after taking continuous mortar and missile fire from Shi'ite resistance
- The British military announced the move as part of a
long-planned handover of security to the Iraqi government, but it was clear
that the move was abrupt. Iraqi authorities were not notified.
- "British forces evacuated the military headquarters
without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman
for the local governor said at the time.
- Looters promptly moved into the empty base and removed
an estimated half a million dollars worth of equipment the British left
behind in their hasty retreat.
- In another significant event last August, Sheikh Faissal
al-Khayoon, chief of the major Shi'ite Arab tribe Beni Assad, was killed
by death squads with suspected Iranian backing. The killers are believed
by men from the tribe to have been working for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior
- Khayoon's tribe members reacted immediately. They took
over the streets and government offices, and set fire to the Iranian consulate
in Basra. The protests continued until clerics and Iraqi government officials
promised them a full investigation.
- "It was another lie that some of us believed,"
a senior Beni Assad leader told IPS on condition of anonymity. "The
Sheikh was killed by Iranian collaborators and we made a promise to his
soul that his precious life will be avenged."
- Beni Tamim is another tribe with both Sunni and Shi'ite
members. Members say their Sheikh, Hamid al-Suhail, was killed Jan. 1 this
year by the Mahdi Army, which they believe has Iranian support. He died
in the northern Baghdad Shi'ite-dominated Shula Quarter.
- "He was 70 years old, and brutally killed by Mahdi
death squads by pushing him from a high building," one of the sheikh's
nephews told IPS in Baghdad. "Iran is behind all this and we, Beni
Tamim are well prepared to face their yellow winds that are blowing Iraq
- Leaders of the two tribes, among many other tribal chiefs
in the south, are working to achieve unity between Sunni and Shi'ite groups.
- Inter Press Service
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