Government said to have lost control of Basra


By Kareem Zair


Azzaman, June 27, 2007


As U.S. troops battle to retake Baghdad and surrounding areas, the government is reported to have lost its control of Basra where almost all of the country’s oil exports originate.


The city, according to well-placed sources, is under the hegemony of militias who do not run its streets only but have imposed levies and taxes on oil output.


“It may be too late for Prime Minister Nouri al-Naliki to restore control of Basra,” one source working for Iraqi intelligence said.


The sources, who all spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, point to the growing Iranian influence in Basra and most of southern Iraq.


The loss of Basra to Shiite militias is a blow to current U.S. military operations mainly directed against Sunni rebels and elements of al-Qaeda group in the country.


The four-month long operations in which tens of thousands of U.S. marines are involved have foundered due to tough resistance from various Iraqi groups particularly those linked to al-Qaeda.


British troops in Basra are almost powerless as their previous military tactics to retake control of the city have all but backfired.


Attacks on British troops have increased significantly recently. Roadside bombs target British armored convoys and their barracks come under frequent mortar attacks.


The sources said Basra was in the midst of “huge chaos” with the political factions and their militias dividing the city into zones of influence.


Senior Iraqi officials, refusing to be named, said Maliki was concerned about latest developments in Basra and other southern cities.


The decline of government control in these areas comes as Iraqi and U.S. troops are engaged in fierce fighting with Sunni resistance and armed groups across the central part of the country.


The officials said Maliki intends to deploy two army battalions and a commando police force in the city to strengthen the provincial government there.


But according to intelligence reports it will take a much bigger force to take on the heavily armed militias in the city.


Control of border points is no longer under the control of government troops and so are the city ports through which a sizeable portion of the country’s imports comes.


The Oil Ministry’s supervision and administration of oil fields, terminals and a major refinery is only symbolic with militias in actual control of Basra’s oil industry.

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