Crossfire War – RAPID FIRE NEWS=TEHRAN – NAJAF – BAGHDAD WATCH – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – El Arish – Ramallah – Gaza – Beirut – Damascus – Najaf – Baghdad/London – Washington – Jerusalem – Cairo – Amman – Paris – Rome; Signs of Iraq Army Offensive Against Shia Militias Weakening – PM al-Maliki Extends Ultimatum to April 8 – Calls on Coalition Air Support – Fighting Erupts in Karbala – Syria Increases Troop Presence on Borders Before Arab Summit
Night Watch: BASRA – As expected Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has not been able to enforce his 72 hour ultimatum against the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Hezbollah of Iraq and other Shia militias. Debka reports the ultimatum has now been extended to April 8 as there are no signs the Iraq Army has made any progress in the first three days of fighting which has now spread to Karbala. Karbala was where some of the first Iraq Army reinforcements came from as they were rushed to Basra where Prime Minister al-Maliki is still based going through the motions of command and leadership as President George W. Bush made the insane statement Thursday that “normalcy was returning to Iraq.” When the war is over, and not just in Iraq, it will be quite a time comparing which of President Bush’s statements were the most unreal which is normal for Washington. Remember him on the carrier five years ago? Iraq’s Prime Minister has now had to call on air support from the UK/US to bomb the positions of the Shia militias in Basra. [DEBKA]
Basra – In an exclusive to Asharq al-Awsat the head of the Mahdi Army-Trend office in Basra, Harith al-Adhari is denying media reports Muqtada al-Sadr had called for a ceasefire, “Message is a fabrication and it and everything to do with it are baseless.” Trend officials in Najaf also denied any such message from al-Sadr. al-Adhari said al-Sadr, reported to be in Iran, has been keeping track of the fighting through contacts with Mahdi Army-Trend leaders and they are following to the letter his orders for them to defend themselves from attacks and arrests during the ceasefire which first went into effect last August then extended in February. That was the single most important reason combat was reduced in Iraq and the UK/US best hope to withdraw from Iraq with any degree of stability in the country but Tehran and the Mahdi Army knew there would be arrests and raids against them ordered by Prime Minister al-Maliki as Iran wanted to give the Shia militias their excuse to renew attacks. That is why a few weeks ago al-Sadr stated Mahdi Army units had the right to defend themselves as a signal to start their latest offensive. It is the combined action-offensive of these heavily armed and well trained militias that will be the single greatest reason for the defeat of the occupation by the lost alliance of London-Washington. al-Adhari added the Iraq Army’s “bonebreaking operation to end the Al-Mahdi Army’s existence will fail because of the Trend members strength and determination.” [ASHARQALAWSAT]
Another official of the Mahdi Army, Aqil al-Bahadili based in Basra, said the Prime Minister “came with a force of 50,000 soldiers from Baghdad and Basra to start the fight against al-Sadr Trends elements and services were cut off from most parts of Basra.” But, he added, “Al-Mahdi Army has extensive presence all over Iraq and anyone who is thinking of its demise is definitely ignorant of matters.” What is especially significant he mentioned he met some of the Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered to the “Martyr Al-Sadr” office in Basra and they told him they had believed they were ordered to Basra to pursue oil and drug smugglers. None of them knew they were actually being sent to fight the Madhi Army and that if they had known they would have resigned immediately before coming. al-Bahadili stated, “The largest number of the police and security forces in Basra are Al-Madhi Army elements and they left their work and sat at home as soon as they learned about the battles objectives.” What Tehran had in mind all along was for the Prime Minister to recruit soldiers and police who showed any sign of loyalty to the occupation then send them to the area of the country where the militias close to Iran are the strongest, the Shia controlled south and near Iran’s border.
Basra Airport – “Any plans for a reduction of British troops is off the table for the time being.” That was the sobering quote from a senior source with the British Defense Ministry in speaking to the Times of London. Until a few days ago there were very definite plans to withdraw 1,600 troops by the spring from the 4,100 troops Britain still has in Iraq, mostly at the Basra airport. But obviously the massive fighting that has broken out around them has changed all that. Currently al-Maliki has only called on coalition air support but there are 19 British liaison officers with him in Basra and they probably know a request for UK/US ground forces will come soon which is exactly what Tehran wants. The same source with Britain’s Defense Ministry said they have not ruled out committing a small ground force. [IRNA]
Damascus – Syria President Bashar Assad seems to be using the Arab League Summit he will be hosting Saturday-Sunday to show his nation’s preparedness for war. Debka is reporting Damascus has deployed large numbers of troops on the borders of every nation around Syria with the exception of Turkey. Syrian troop presence has increased on the borders of Israel/Iraq-Lebanon and Damascus has pushed units across Lebanon’s border. Damascus-Tehran had already increased the weaponry of Palestinian units in Lebanon based in the Beqaa Valley. In attendance at the summit will be Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. [DEBKA]