Shiek Ali al-Sauidi, a prominent member of the Moqtada al-Sadr-led movement in Basra, said his men were being targeted not by the Iraqi government but by government militias loyal to the rival Supreme Islamic Council faction.
"They are a executing a very well drawn plan. They are trying to exterminate the Sadrists and cut and isolate the movement before the September local elections," he said in a telephone interview with the Guardian.
"The Sadrists are the only Shia resistance movement against the occupiers and we have wide popularity. We are going through a battle of existence we will fight to the end. We either survive this or we are finished." ...
Sauidi said the Mahdi army was well equipped for the fight ahead. "We have captured lots of their vehicles, machine guns and mortars. We have new RPGs we got from their supply trucks. Our fighters know how to use the side streets as their battle space."
As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and Shia Iraqi soldiers continued, witnesses described the scenes in Basra.
A resident of the poor neighbourhood of Hayaniya said: "The situation is very difficult in Basra, all the side streets are controlled by the Mahdi army. Even if the army has lots of tanks, the Mahdi fighters are controlling the streets. The fighters are driving in captured Iraqi Humvees and waving new guns."
In other news, President Bush correctly described the fighting as a "defining moment" in the history of the new Iraq. Abu Muqawama just hopes it turns out to be as cheerful a defining moment as the president thinks it will be. Also, is this a sly dig at the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil British approach to Basra Province in 2003?
"From the beginning of liberation, there have been criminal elements that have had a pretty free hand in Basra," Bush said. "And it was just a matter of time before the government was going to have to deal with it."