Just over 2 months after handing over the province of Maysan to the Iraqi army on the grounds that it was now « calm », British soldiers are now on standby to restore order in its capital, Amara. This follows 2 days of gun battles in the streets, which left 31 dead and 100 injured.
Of course, at the time, claiming that the Maysan province was « calm » was nothing short of a lie. It was in this province, that in the early days of the occupation, the guerillas showed their ability to strike for the first time. Following a brutal operation carried out by British forces against the population of a small town in 2003, they attacked and killed a whole platoon in retaliation. Since then, the striking power of the guerillas has not shown any sign of weakening, while the province has become a battleground for rival Shia militias vying for local power.
These rivalries came to a head last week. The Home ministry, in Baghdad, is in the hands of one Shia militia, known as the Badr brigade. This militia has been using this ministry to take control of the local police forces across the country, in particular in the Shia-dominated areas. In Amara, the police arrested the local leader of a rival militia. This was enough to bring hundreds of armed men out into the streets, to occupy police buildings in order to obtain the release of their leader.
What happened in Amara is not just an isolated incident. Across the country the on-going rivalries between militias are causing more and more casualties. Far from being able to restore any kind of peace in Iraq, the occupation forces only inflame these rivalries - if only because of their continuing support for those militias which have agreed to sit in their puppet « democratic » government in Baghdad. All the occupation forces do in the end,
is to train their fire indiscriminately on the population, thereby bringing more recruits to the most anti-western militias.
It is no coincidence if, in October, western forces experienced their largest number of casualties since the occupation of Fallujah, two years ago. Nor is it a coincidence if casualty levels among the population are at their highest since Bush declared the war officially « over ». This only reflects the real situation in Iraq that this government tries so hard to conceal from our eyes.
Following the events in Amara, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells stated in an interview on Radio Five that the Iraqi police and army would be able to take over within a year at most, thereby allowing the withdrawal of British troops. This is little more than a bad joke. British troops should withdraw, yes, but they should withdraw now, before they cause even more damage!