Iraq sent an armored army division and a police strike force into the southern oil city of Basra to disarm residents amid intensified feuding between rival Shi’ite Muslim tribes, a local official and three security sources said on Friday.
The majority of crude exports from major OPEC oil producer Iraq comes from oil fields around Basra, far from the northern and western parts of the country controlled by Islamic State. But fighting in the area has forced the government in Baghdad to divert critical resources to the southern province.
“This security operation targets areas north of Basra that have an abundance of tribal clashes and will also include neighborhoods inside Basra city in the future,” said Jabar al-Saadi, head of the security committee at the Basra provincial council.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held his weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday in Basra, where he called on security forces to “strike with an iron fist [against] the gangs that tamper with Basra’s security.”
With tanks and heavy machine guns, the security forces entered overnight the northern district of al-Hussein, a flash point for tribal fighting also known as al-Hayaniya, Saadi said. Backed by army helicopters, they began raiding homes and seizing weapons, he added.
Security forces arrested around 30 people on criminal charges and seized machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and large ammunition caches, the security sources said.