Three weeks after Iraqi troops swarmed into the southern city of Basra to take on armed militiamen who had overrun the streets, many residents say they feel safer and that their lives have improved.
The fierce fighting which marked the first week of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) has given way to slower, more focused house-by-house searches by Iraqi troops, which led on Monday to the freeing of an abducted British journalist.
Residents say the streets have been cleared of gunmen, markets have reopened, basic services have been resumed and a measure of normality has returned to the oil-rich city.
The port of Umm Qasr is in the hands of the Iraqi forces who wrested control of the facility from Shiite militiamen, and according to the British military it is operational once again. . .
An AFP correspondent said three northwestern neighbourhoods once under the firm control of the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — Al-Hayaniyah, Khamsamile and Garma — are now encircled by Iraqi troops who are carrying out door-to-door searches. . .
Taxi driver Samir Hashim, 35, said he now felt safer driving through the city’s streets and was willing to put up with the traffic jams caused by the many security checkpoints.
“We feel secure. Assassinations have ended, organised crime is finished and armed groups are no longer on the streets,” said Hashim.
“I think Basra will be the best city in Iraq,” he added optimistically. “We are finally beginning to feel there is law in Basra.”
I was worried that Maliki wouldn’t carry through with the Basra mission, so this is very encouraging.