WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iraq’s southern city of Basra likely will face new threats of violence from Shi’ite militants who battled Iraqi security forces there during a March government crackdown, a British general said on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner, commander of coalition forces in southeastern Iraq, said many militants fled Iraq’s second city and some went to Iran during the fighting against coalition-backed Iraqi forces in an operation meant to break their hold on largely Shi’ite Basra.
“I do think that violent extremists … will try to come back and I think we need to be ready for them,” White-Spunner told Pentagon reporters in a video link from Iraq.
“The militias have lost control of areas of Basra,” he said. “I do not think you will see militias re-establish control.”
But White-Spunner added, “I think there will be an ongoing terrorist campaign for some time.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi forces into Basra on March 25 in an operation against militants loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, about three months after British authorities gave Iraq control of the port city that is vital to Iraq’s oil-dominated economy.
Analysts say the crackdown’s ultimate success, combined with subsequent Iraqi anti-militant operations in Baghdad’s Sadr City section and in Mosul, have helped bolster Maliki’s popular standing as the country moves toward provincial elections later this year.
White-Spunner said Iraqi forces, with contingents of British and U.S. troops, are setting up a new security network across the city while Iraqi and coalition officials concentrate on improving the city’s economic infrastructure.
“The security is there. What we really want to do is encourage people now to come and invest, come and get commercial partnerships in Basra. That will produce employment,” the general said.