Iraq: Violence Flares as Mahdi Army Units Drive Police from Southern City

Violence erupted once again in central and southern Iraq as heavily armed Shiite militia groups battle with police and army over control of residential quarters.

The most ferocious clashes are reported to be taking place in the Province of Wasit of which the city of Kut is the capital.

Police sources in Kut say the Mahdi Army, the military army of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has driven police forces from city.

The clashes follow orders from Sadr to permit his militias to carry arms and defend themselves. This is the first breach of the six-month truce he and U.S. commanders had agreed upon.

So far the fighting has involved his militias and Iraqi forces. But the latest clashes in Kut prove that Iraqi troops are no match for Sadr’s heavily armed militia.

Police and security forces have fled the city and are reported to be regrouping for a counter attack.

Iraqi troops have asked for reinforcements but it is not clear whether U.S. occupation troops will interfere.

Eight people are reported to have been killed and scores wounded in the latest fighting.

More acts of violence were reported in Basra where one of Iraq’s top surgeons, Dr. Khalid al-Mayahi, was murdered in his clinic.

Highways linking southern cities with Baghdad and each other are no longer safe, particularly at night, and a massive crackdown on lawlessness in Basra in which more than 5,000 police officers took part seems to have failed to curb the violence.

But the clashes in Wasit come amid reports that China and Iraq were about to finalize negotiations over the development of Ahdab oil field where the Chinese are willing to invest more than one billion dollars.

The latest fighting will certainly make China think twice before starting the development.

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