At least 12 people are reported to have been killed in fighting between Iraqi government forces and armed militia in Basra.
Fighting erupted between Iraqi forces and members of the Mahdi Army - followers of Shi'a Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - on Tuesday. As fighting spread, curfews were imposed by the Iraqi authorities in Basra and other southern cities, including al-Nassirya, Kut, al-Hilla and Samawa. It is not known if civilians are among the dead.
Amnesty International has warned that the violence is creating a grave risk to civilians and urged all parties to refrain from indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.
"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."
The Mahdi Army declared a ceasefire at the end of August 2007 and announced at the end of February 2008 that the truce would be renewed for a further six months. It has been vying with other Shi’a militia groups for political control of Basra and has had frequent armed clashes with the Badr Organization, the 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 has called on the Iraqi government to ensure that its security forces comply with Iraq’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, the organization has called for the civilian population and civilian objects to be protected at all times.
Amnesty International has also called on armed groups in Basra and other cities to comply with the rules of international law and to respect civilian life.