Heavy fighting between Iraqi government forces and armed militia in Basra and other Iraqi cities is creating a grave risk to civilians, Amnesty International said today, as it urged all parties to refrain from indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks and to respect civilian life.
“Civilians have borne the heaviest brunt during the past five years of conflict in Iraq,” said Amnesty International. “This new upsurge of fighting is certain to add to that terrible toll.”
Fighting erupted on Tuesday 25 March in Basra between Iraqi forces and members of the Mahdi Army, followers of Shi’a Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to press reports, at least 12 people were killed in the city. It is not known at this stage if civilians were among them. As fighting spread, curfews were imposed by the Iraqi authorities in Basra and other southern cities, including al-Nassirya, Kut, al-Hilla and Samawa.
The Mahdi Army declared a cease fire at the end of August 2007 and announced at the end of February 2008 that it was being renewed for a further six months. It has been vying with other Shi’a militia groups for political control of Basra and there have been frequent armed clashes between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The latest fighting appears to have broken out in response to an attempt by Iraqi security forces to clamp down on the armed militias.
Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi government to ensure that its security forces comply with Iraq’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and in particular to ensure that the civilian population and civilian objects are protected at all time.
Amnesty International is also calling on armed groups in Basra and other cities to comply with the rules of international law and to respect civilian life.