Spinning the bloodshed in Basra

As fighting rages in Basra, the White House is unleashing a forceful spin campaign to frame the Iraqi government’s offensive there as a positive outcome of the U.S. troop surge and a symbol of better days to come.

Speaking to an invitation-only audience at an Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, this morning, President Bush argued that the Basra incursion “shows the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge” and “demonstrates to the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them. . . .

Iraqi Army’s assault on militias in Basra stalls

An assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers to regain control of the southern port city of Basra stalled Wednesday as Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army fought daylong hit-and-run battles and refused to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power there.

American officials have presented the Iraqi Army’s attempts to secure the port city as an example of its ability to carry out a major operation against the insurgency on its own. A failure there would be a serious embarrassment for the Iraqi government and for the army, as well as for American forces eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively on their own.

Iraqi government spokesman abducted amid Baghdad violence

Rockets and mortars rained down on Baghdad today, and a high-ranking Iraqi government spokesman was abducted from his home, as violence continued in the wake of a crackdown on Shiite Muslim militiamen.

Scores of people have died since the fighting erupted early Tuesday, including at least 51 in the southern oil port city of Basra, where the Iraqi offensive began. At least 15 people, most of them civilians, were reported killed in attacks today in Baghdad and nearby Babil province to the south. Skirmishes also continued in Basra, where a pipeline carrying oil to the city’s port was hit by a major blast that sent flames soaring into the sky.

Thousands in Baghdad protest Basra assault

In direct confrontation with the American-backed government in Iraq, thousands of supporters of the powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia took to the streets of Baghdad on Thursday to protest the Iraqi Army’s assault on the southern port city of Basra, as intense fighting continued there for a third day.

In Basra, there seemed to be no breakthrough in the fighting by either side. As much as half of the city remained under militia control, hospitals in some parts of the city were reported full, and the violence continued to spread. Clashes were reported all over the city and in locations 12 miles south of Basra.

Shiite militia won’t back down in government crackdown

Defiant Shiites flexed their muscle today by sending tens of thousands of supporters into the streets of Baghdad, raining shells into the Green Zone and holding the Iraqi army at bay in the key oil city of Basra.

Amid all the turmoil, a bomb blasted a crucial oil pipeline in Basra, triggering a massive fire and threatening the country’s ability to export oil.

It was the second oil pipeline attacked in southern Iraq this week. Basra’s oil accounts for 80 percent of Iraq’s production.

The pipeline blast sent the world’s price of oil to $107 a barrel.

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