A Reuters correspondent in Basra said Iraqi forces had cordoned off seven districts but were being repelled by Mehdi Army fighters inside them. Helicopters swooped overhead.
Reuters television pictures showed masked Mehdi fighters firing mortars and waving rocket launchers in the air while they danced with children in the empty streets. Some showed off captured government vehicles sprayed with Mehdi Army slogans.
Shia militia have also been fighting US and Iraqi forces in the Shia Baghdad neighbourhoods of al-Baiyaa, Shaab and Kazimiyah, as well as Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad.
Police said at least 10 people, including a baby girl, were killed and 31 wounded in clashes in Kut, 105 miles south of Baghdad.Al Jazeera is reporting that the conflict has now extended to Amara, with clashes between Iraqi forces and the Mahdi Army. Mortars and rockets could reportedly be heard throughout the city, and Mahdi Army fighters have apparently deployed throughout the city in preparation for the attack.
Huge protests have broken out in Baghdad against the Maliki government. The picture above is from one of the protests in Baghdad, where tens of thousands have taken to the streets.
The Sadr supporters in Sadr City report being locked in a virtual state of siege. "We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday. We can't bathe our children or wash our clothes," said a resident who gave his name as Mohammed.
Despite this Sadr City lockdown, demonstrations were also held in the Kadhimiya and Shula districts of Baghdad, among the largest anti-government protests Maliki's government has faced, although the total number of marchers was impossible to verify. An Interior Ministry source said hundreds of thousands took part. Similar protests took place in Karbala.
The conflict has reportedly left more than 130 people dead and at least 300 injured so far, including numerous civilians. Today, Iraqi sources claimed today that about 60 civilians were killed in a US air strike on the southern city of Hilla. Iraqi government figures put the number at half of that... but if there is significant evidence of civilian casualties, this could increase unrest against Maliki and the U.S. occupation.
The Green Zone of Baghdad has come under mortar and rocket fire for the fourth straight day, resulting in several serious injuries thus far. It was also announced that at least one U.S. contractor was killed in the recent bombardments.
A huge fire is raging after a bomb was detonated underneath one of Basra's two major oil pipelines, Iraqi officials announced today. The bombing of the pipeline, seven miles south of Basra, immediately caused world oil prices to rise by more than a dollar.
"This morning, saboteurs blew up the pipeline transporting crude from [the] Zubair 1 [oil plant] by placing bombs beneath it," an oil company official said. "Crude exports will be greatly affected because this is one of two main pipelines transporting crude to the southern terminals. We will lose about a third of crude exported through Basra."
For those curious about the background on this, there are several news reports online. ( 1, 2, 3, 4 ) .