WASHINGTON - Coalition forces have launched air strikes against Shiite fighters in Iraq. That move was made as Iraq's security forces are facing a critical test.
Their drive to crush Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra is tough going: Violence has spilled over into other Iraqi cities, including Baghdad. But President Bush sees several positive signs amid the recent unrest.
Not Going According to Plan - So Far
So far, the fighting against Shiite militias in Basra has not been the triumphant coming out party for Iraq's security forces that many had hoped for.
Some 30,000 Iraqi police and army soldiers are involved in the Basra operation. But reports suggest that a sizable chunk of this strategic southern Iraqi city is still in the hands of Muqtada al-Sadr's mahdi army.
Al-Sadr, who is now based in Iran, is calling for "a political solution" to the conflict.
But violence continues to spill over into other cities as well, including Baghdad where the U.S. fortified green zone has come under fire and large protests in Shiite areas condemned Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew on the capital city until Sunday - and that has brought a lull in the fighting there for now.
The President is praising the al-Maliki government for going on the offensive against the militias. He says the Basra operation was made possible by the success of the U.S. troop surge.
President Outlines Benefits of Surge
"The surge is doing what it was designed to do. It's helping Iraqis reclaim security and restart political and economic life. It is bringing America closer to a key strategic victory in the war against these extremists and radicals," Bush said.
The President outlined the security benefits of the surge in detail:
- Sectarian violence is way down.
- Al Qaeda's grips on Baghdad and Anbar province - Iraq's largest- have been broken despite the
- Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been weakened.
- Iraq's security forces are growing stronger.
- Average Iraqis increasingly see the coalition as part of the solution, not the problem.
Coaliton forces have been standing by and allowing Iraqis to lead the Basra operation. But Coalition jets dropped bombs on the city today for the first time after Iraqi forces called for air support.
It underscores the fact that failure in Basra is not an option for the al-Maliki government or the U.S.