Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Al-Mahdi in Basrah

Tensions have been high in Basrah city since last Thursday. I mentioned before that people have been circulating rumours that Al-Mahdi militiamen were preparing themselves for a show of power in the city. The next day they were literally all over the place. Sadr's main office at Al-Tuwaissa was watched closely by a small force of Brits maintaining a distance, while Mahdi militiamen at Asharr started shooting randomly at police stations. There were reports of clashes at Sa'ad square, Al-Harthah, Al-Garmah, and other areas in the city.

Mortar rounds have been fired on the governorate building and several police stations downtown since Saturday. Yesterday morning, there was a 'peaceful' demonstration by Al-Mahdi and Sadr supporters. They briefly surrounded the governorate building which was cleared from officials and employees earlier. British forces and IP blocked several main streets in Asharr and placed checkpoints, but it seems there was no real desire to engage or provoke the angry militiamen. A British Land Rover was burnt in the process at Al-Tuwaissa. Another one was burning today at Asharr, but no fighting took place as far as I know. Looks like Al-Mahdi are slowly testing how much they can get away with, or they are intentionally trying to pick up a fight.

Today, Basrah's streets were almost empty after a Sadr spokesman threatened yesterday to 'fight the occupiers in every street of Basrah'. Stores are closed and people are apprehensive. The governorate building has been abandoned since yesterday.

I've been watching Sadr's office at my location for the last few days, but it looks sinisterly inactive. Someone at work mentioned that Sadr's representative had stated that the area is under control of the Mahdi Army, and there is yet another demonstration over here this evening. People say that Sadr's office has asked everyone to participate, including IP and governmental employees. Almost sounds like a direct order.

I am supposed to leave for Baghdad early tomorrow, but I was told today that the Ammara-Baghdad road was blocked by Al-Mahdi and that they were practically in control of Ammara and the surrounding areas. The Nasiriya road doesn't sound much safer either.