BAGHDAD - Violence is spreading further across Iraq, as Shi'ite Arab tribes
in the south begin to engage occupation forces in new armed resistance.
Resistance in the southern parts of Iraq has been escalating over the last
three months, leading to increased casualties among British and other occupation
In the last seven months, at least 24 British soldiers have been killed in
southern Iraq, with at least as many wounded, according to the independent website
Iraq Coalition Casualties. So far at least 128 British soldiers have died in
Iraq, along with 123 of other nationalities. Most of these have been stationed
in southern Iraq.
Casualties earlier were far lower.
Attacks against occupation forces appear to stem from a growing nationalism.
"This is not about vengeance," a former Iraqi army officer from Kut,
200 km south of Baghdad told IPS in Baghdad. "People have lost hope in
the US-led occupation's promises, and they are thinking of saving the country
from Iranian influence which has been supported, or at least allowed by the
British and US military leaders tend not to say who has been targeting their
forces in the south. They simply call the resistance fighters "terrorists,"
or they point to the Mahdi Army led by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as the
only source of disturbance in the south.
While members of the Mahdi Army certainly carry out attacks against occupation
forces in southern Iraq, other homegrown resistance seems to have taken root,
fed also by earlier memories.
"People here have always hated the US and British occupation of Iraq,
and remembered their grandfathers who fought the British troops with the simplest
weapons," Jassim al-Assadi, a school headmaster from Kut told IPS on a
recent visit to Baghdad.
Al-Assadi was referring to the Shi'ite resistance that eventually played a
key role in expelling British forces from Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s.
Armed resistance against the occupation in the south was slow to begin with
because religious clerics instructed their followers to give the occupation
time to fulfill promises made by the Bush and Blair administrations, al-Assadi
"But now they do not believe any cleric's promises any more. They have
started fighting, and that is that."
A political analyst in Baghdad, who asked to be referred to as W. al-Tamimi,
told IPS that he believes occupation forces have been working in tandem with
death squads. "We have been observing American and British occupation forces
supporting those death squads all over Iraq, but we were still hoping for reconciliation."
Al-Tamimi said the sheikh of his tribe, which is both Shi'ite and Sunni, was
"under great pressure by the tribe's young men to let them join the resistance."
The force of the growing resistance in the south has become more and more evident.
Late last August 1,200 British soldiers known as The Queen's Royal Hussars abruptly
evacuated their three-year-old base after taking continuous mortar and missile
fire from Shi'ite resistance fighters.
The British military announced the move as part of a long-planned handover
of security to the Iraqi government, but it was clear that the move was abrupt.
Iraqi authorities were not notified.
"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination
with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the local governor
said at the time.
Looters promptly moved into the empty base and removed an estimated half a
million dollars worth of equipment the British left behind in their hasty retreat.
In another significant event last August, Sheikh Faissal al-Khayoon, chief
of the major Shi'ite Arab tribe Beni Assad, was killed by death squads with suspected
Iranian backing. The killers are believed by men from the tribe to have been
working for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior in Basra.
Khayoon's tribe members reacted immediately. They took over the streets and
government offices, and set fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra. The protests
continued until clerics and Iraqi government officials promised them a full
"It was another lie that some of us believed," a senior Beni Assad
leader told IPS on condition of anonymity. "The Sheikh was killed by Iranian
collaborators and we made a promise to his soul that his precious life will
Beni Tamim is another tribe with both Sunni and Shi'ite members. Members say
their Sheikh, Hamid al-Suhail, was killed Jan. 1 this year by the Mahdi Army,
which they believe has Iranian support. He died in the northern Baghdad Shi'ite-dominated
"He was 70 years old, and brutally killed by Mahdi death squads by pushing
him from a high building," one of the sheikh's nephews told IPS in Baghdad.
"Iran is behind all this and we, Beni Tamim are well prepared to face their
yellow winds that are blowing Iraq apart."
Leaders of the two tribes, among many other tribal chiefs in the south, are
working to achieve unity between Sunni and Shi'ite groups.
Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist
writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering
the Middle East for several years.
(Inter Press Service)