As Juan Cole points out, as the US Air Force targets more civilian areas around Basra, and Iran tells everyone to cool it, the Iraqi army continues to turn over its weapons to Sadr's Mahdi.
Chris Floyd points out the real likely cause of the friction: oil.
In addition, another motive behind the attack on the oil port of Basra has emerged. As noted in the Guardian by Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer persecuted and driven into exile by Saddam Hussein, the escalation of the civil war is also designed to crush the oil workers' union in Basra, which adamantly opposes the "oil laws" now being pushed by Bush and al-Maliki: measures which will consign the nation's oil wealth to the long-term control and domination of Western oil giants. Ramadani also notes that the brutal operation is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's violent repression of "insurgents" in the same area in 1991 -- while U.S. forces sat by and watched. Ramadani:Maliki declared on Thursday that there will be no negotiations and that he was leading the Iraqi forces in a battle to the finish. An elated George Bush gave Maliki his full support - the "kiss of death", as one Baghdad resident put it. Maliki and British officers strove to portray the Basra operation as the independent decision of the Iraqi government. That was quickly proved to be wishful thinking as US planes flew to the rescue of government forces. Bombing missions included Basra, Hilla, Nassiriya and Baghdad. Hundreds, and, some report, thousands, of people are believed to have been killed or injured.....
A trade union leader in Basra reminded me this week that March was the month in 1991 when Saddam launched his infamous campaign to crush an uprising, which began in Basra and spread to most of the country. This week's attacks, he said, were much more ferocious that those 17 years ago. There are other disturbing echoes: Saddam's forces were being observed by US and British planes, which were in full control of Iraqi air space as the March uprising was so brutally crushed....
Many Iraqis are linking what they regard as a premeditated and unprovoked attack on a relatively peaceful city with Cheney's visit and Washington's insistence that the US-trained Iraqi armed forces should do more of the ground-fighting, while the occupation forces resort to air attacks and emergency support.
They are also linking it to the fact that oil and dock workers' unions, declared illegal, are in full control of the ports and the major oil fields. These unions are strongly opposed to the US-backed oil law to privatise the Iraqi industry and allow the major oil companies to control production and marketing. The law is also opposed by the Sadr movement, which was expected to win a decisive victories in forthcoming elections.
Once again, the occupiers have miscalculated the depth of resentment in Iraq. And once again, the occupation is seen by many Iraqis as a divisive force, the root of the bulk of the violence. For most Iraqis, it is the occupation which threatens to ignite civil war. Only an end to the occupation and complete withdrawal can put Iraq on the long and tortuous path of rebuilding its tormented lands.
This is really too easy for Sith Lord Cheneyburton. Keep the Unions cowed, keep the flow of oil down to a minimum to keep the price up, keep the turnover of weapons high in Iraq, and implicate the Iranians. Business for the Company is positively booming.