Iraqi resistance forces Maliki to back down

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AS Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s 72-hour amnesty deadline for militia fighters in Basra to hand over their weapons ran out yesterday, this leader of the puppet Iraqi regime said that it had been extended by another 10 days and that the government will pay cash for arms.

In a statement Maliki said: ‘All those who have heavy and intermediate weapons are to deliver them to security sites and they will be rewarded financially. This will start from March 28 to April 8.’

The Iraqi puppet government was forced to back down – despite deploying 30,000 troops and police trained by the United States and Britain in four days of fighting in Basra – because followers of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army still control densely-populated neighbourhoods of the southern Iraqi city. Maliki’s forces had to call upon US air power on Thursday night to bomb mortar teams and the militia’s forces.

The US-supported Iraqi Army’s attack on Basra had killed at least 130 people and wounded another 350 by yesterday.

US President George Bush praised Maliki’s attack yesterday and claimed that ‘normalcy was returning to Iraq’. He has said that ‘it was a very positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law’.

In response to Maliki’s army attack on Basra, where the Mahdi Army has been the de facto local authority for some time, Sadr’s supporters have spread the struggle against the imperialist puppet government.

Since Tuesday there have been huge protests in Baghdad’s Sadr City and Kadhimiya neighbourhoods, with tens of thousands taking to the streets against the ‘new dictator’ Maliki. In Sadr City on Thursday they shouted: ‘Maliki you are a coward! Maliki is an American agent! Leave the government Maliki! How can you strike Basra!’

After Maliki’s attack on Basra, the Mahdi Army stepped up its operations in Sadr City, Hilla, Kut and Nasariyah, with US sources saying that fighting had left 44 people dead in Kut, 30 in Sadr City and eight in Babel.

In Nasariyah eyewitnesses said that Sadr’s Mahdi Army had taken control of the town, just north of Basra, yesterday.

A spokesman for Sadr also said: ‘Moqtada al-Sadr calls on all groups to adopt a political situation and peaceful protest and to stop shedding Iraqi blood.’

Sadr founded the Mahdi Army within weeks of the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 and he has consistently adopted a nationalist stand, demanding the immediate withdrawal of foreign imperialist troops from Iraq.

Maliki and the other former emigrés, who make up the imperialist puppet government, only returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the US occupation. His army and police have been trained by the imperialists and they rely on US air support, intelligence and logistics.

So Maliki’s climbdown over the weapons amnesty yesterday is not merely a blow to his fragile puppet government, which has little popular support, it is another blow delivered against his masters in Washington.

With the countdown to the end of Bush’s Presidency next January, the Pentagon demanded Maliki attack resistance forces in Basra as part of the US year-long ‘military surge’ strategy. Just as the surge has failed to ‘pacify’ Baghdad, Basra can be added to the list of failures of Maliki and his US imperialist backers.

Bush’s vain hopes of delivering ‘stability’ under Maliki’s puppet regime, giving the next President the chance of withdrawing troops, while maintaining US control of Iraq’s oil, are in tatters.

The balance of forces in Iraq is changing, creating conditions for the Iraqi resistance to put an end to Maliki’s puppet regime.

At the same time, in the US, the ILWU dockworkers’ union is organising eight-hour, stop-work meetings in California, Washington and Oregan states on May 1, to demand the withdrawal of American troops and an end to the war in Iraq.

The trade unions in this country, which have participated in anti-war protests since 2003, must organise national mass strike action on May 1, to demand that the Brown government immediately withdraws British troops, or get out and make way for a workers’ government that will do this.