With Iraq’s top leaders directing the battle, Iraq’s army and national police pressed a major operation Tuesday to wrest control of the southern port city of Basra from the Shiite Mahdi Army militia. Fighting between government forces and the militia quickly spread through Iraq’s south and into Baghdad.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his defense and interior ministers took charge of the 15,000 Iraqi army troops and police units, which were deployed for what aides said was to be a three-day operation against militias in the city.
The battle at the oil-rich port began before dawn Tuesday and lasted into the early evening before subsiding slightly as the Mahdi Army, headed by firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr, defended positions in several neighborhoods. In the dead of night, residents reported artillery shelling, mortar rounds and guns being fired outside their homes. [complete article]