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Jury still out on Baghdad policy

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February 16, 2007

By BRIAN MURPHY

As a military offensive seeks to bring Baghdad from the brink of anarchy, a top Iraqi security officer tried Friday to measure its early stages using the grim logic of a place with daily bloodshed: by counting the bodies arriving at the morgue.

A total of 10 corpses were collected off the streets — apparently all victims of the city’s lawless jumble of gang justice and sectarian payback. The daily body tally recently has often been 40 or more, excluding major bombings, said Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi.

This was the basis for an upbeat message by Moussawi, a spokesman for the joint U.S.-Iraqi security sweep that began this week and has so far faced limited resistance. But his American counterparts remain much more guarded.

“I would say that it is way too early to establish any trends,” said Lt. Col. Chris Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. “We’ve just started to focus our operations. We have months to go to see if we are going to succeed or not.”

The contrasting outlooks cut across the entire mission, dubbed Operation Law and Order, which seeks to reclaim the streets. Powerful militias and freelance vigilantes have carved Baghdad into fiefdoms and made even daily errands a gamble that could end with a car bombing or gunfire.

The Iraqis are eager to show clear progress to boost the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. U.S. commanders, however, are approaching the neighbor-by-neighbor sweep as a methodical campaign without quick victories — learning from past mistakes of pouring through an area, only to find that militiamen simply went underground and returned after American forces left.

“We are just at the beginning stages,” reminded Garver.

But evidence of the offensive against militants appeared around the country.

Borders to Iran and Syria have been temporarily sealed in attempts to foil suspected supply routes. In Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, U.S. forces are under sharply escalating attacks from Sunni Muslim insurgents — suggesting that some groups have shifted from Baghdad to other areas to sidestep the crackdown in the capital.

U.S. military officials said demolition experts destroyed a bomb-making factory they linked to the al-Qaida in Iraq faction in Salman Pak, just southwest of Baghdad. The statement said the workshop contained about 1,000 pounds of explosives.

But doubt was cast on another reported blow to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The Interior Ministry said that leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was wounded and an aide killed Thursday in a clash with Iraqi forces near Balad, north of Baghdad.

Garver, the U.S. military spokesman, later said the Pentagon had no information that al-Masri was hit. The al-Masri deputy reported killed, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai, was detained last week and remains in jail, said an Iraqi army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

Iraqi security officials also said 34 armed men belonging to a messianic Shiite cult were detained near Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

The Soldiers of Heaven, or Jund al-Samaa, cult was involved in a fierce gunbattle last month with Iraqi forces who accused it of planning to kill Shiite clerics and others in a bid to force the return of the “Hidden Imam” — a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who disappeared as a child in the 9th century. Shiites believe he will return one day to bring justice.

In mosques Friday, some Muslim clerics supported the general goals of the military push to calm Baghdad. But others used the weekly prayers to denounce the American troop buildup in Baghdad.

Political leaders, too, quarreled over the widening security sweeps — reflecting starkly opposing perspectives among Iraq’s two Muslim groups.

The majority Shiites have generally favored the campaign as a way to neutralize Sunni militant groups, blamed for waves of recent car bombings. Sunnis — who enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein — believe Shiite factions will use the military push to try to cement controls of key areas in Baghdad.

Sunni lawmaker Dhafir Al-Ani said on Al-Arabiya television that the Baghdad security plan had lost the “element of surprise” because it was announced long in advance, giving Shiite militiamen time to flee to Iran. He also claimed Shiite militias had provided security forces with some of the names on their wanted list.

But a Shiite lawmaker, Hadi Al-Amiri, backed the U.S.-Iraqi crackdown as a way to “target all those who cause the Iraqi bloodshed.”

In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration offered a bleak picture of Iraqis trying to escape the violence and insecurity. Nearly 18,000 people have left their homes in the past three weeks in central and southern Iraq — some fleeing for the borders and others taking shelter in makeshift housing.

As many as 1 million Iraqis could flee their homes this year unless the unrest is brought under control, said a report by the 120-nation agency. An estimated 1.4 million Iraqis have already left their homes.

“The numbers of people that are being displaced are increasing every day,” said Jemini Pandya, a spokeswoman for the group. “The security situation is not improving. It’s not changing.”

In other developments:

  • The Pentagon said it is sending an Army division headquarters staff of about 1,000 soldiers to Baghdad three months ahead of schedule, a move intended to improve the Army’s ability to command and control the thousands of extra combat troops that President Bush has ordered to Iraq.
  • Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, told the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat that Sunni insurgents who are “honorable and genuine” must be given the chance to join the political process now that the United States is eager to pull its troops from Iraq. He said U.S. and Iraqi representatives must negotiate “with the participation of the resistance” after “America has failed to run the country.”

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

4 Responses to Jury still out on Baghdad policy

  1. Ardie

    February 17, 2007 at 2:59 am

    The Sunni’s are doing the bulk of the damage in terms of U.S. KIAs (about 92%). They are supported by Saudi Arabia and Syria (both are Sunni countries). So what is really going on in Iraq? Given the fact that the U.S. is there to control the oil in order to protect the dollar while it has to support the Saudis, the Bush Administration is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. More Sunni insurgents will pour over the Syrian border, funded indirectly by the Saudis. They will bring with them advanced IEDs and weapons to lay the ground work for a much larger civil war. In the meantime, the Bush Administration is turning a blind eye to the Saudi problem by creating a diversion with Iran. Bush has got this country in the worse possible mess imaginable, and being the genetic screw-up he is, things are about to get much worse. What the U.S. troops are doing is analogous to acting like referees during the Civil War between the states. It won’t make any difference.

  2. gene

    February 17, 2007 at 2:01 am

    Its like landing a 747 with no landing gear and praying everyone comes out alive and all nice and democratic. These morons in the white house can’t honestly believe their on stupidty. The only way to secure Iraq is to nuke the whole middle east (along with Russia and China) which would basiclly finish off whats left of the planet. And where would we get all the daily crap we buy since this country basically can’t make shit anymore. We just do each others laundry, I think its called (service industry). “One day at a time sweet Jesus” has become more real than I ever could imagine. I got a bad feeling I/we haven’t seen nothing yet.

  3. SEAL

    February 17, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Ardie, I don’t know where you are getting your information, but you’re wrong. I think your conclusions are only your own assumptions. It’s true that, in the beginning, the sunnis were causing most of the death and injuries to our guys. But as the situation has progressed more amd more it has been caused by the shiite militias. They are much more proficient with the roadside bombs and have the advantage of being able to travel freely in coalition controlled territories. One of their snipers can take out one of our guys and go back home, sit down, and have dinner while the troops look for a sunni insurgent. It is much easier for them to plant the bombs in the roads and that is what has caused most of the American deaths. Also, they have access to better more deadly equipment because so many of them are in the Iraqi army.

    My information comes from the boots on the ground. I taught desert and/or urban tactics to a lot of those guys. We talk. They can’t trust anyone any more. Especially the Iraqi troops. Everyone is the enemy. I get the feeling it’s worse than Nam was. What the public doesn’t know is that the shiites want us gone so they can wipe out the sunni resistance. They know they have the power to do it. If we left it would be a bloodbath and over in about 6 months. That information has been suppressed. The reality is that we are protecting the sunnis.

    Both sides are targeting certain people to kidnap. torture, and kill – settling personal scores – but mostly it is the shiites doing that. Actually the new strategy is the most intelligent thing they have done in 3 years. They’re going after the shiite militias and death squards. They are the ones killing and injuring most of our guys. The sunnis are primarily martyr bombing the shiites. About the only time they kill any of ours is when we trap them in a firefight or a rare roadside bomb. But, as the administration has been pointing out, those bombs are primarily Iranian manufacture and they sure as hell aren’t giving any of them to sunnis. The shiites have a direct pipeline to dealers in Iran. The sunnis don’t get near as much outside help. most of the exposives they use are the ones we walked right by during the invasion and what they had stashed for this eventuality.

    I do agree with you that the situation is a FUBAR. This crackdown will only cause the bad guys to go underground until its over. Then they will start over again. Bush will huff and puff about how right he was and then the damn thing will blow up in his face again. And, of course, he will not tell you that the bad guys went to other parts of the country and killed people while Bagdad was shut down. The lies will continue and the situation will continue to deteriorate until congress gets the balls to stop it. The house looks like they are going to do it but the senate stands in the way. It will have to turn into a complete disaster before 10 of those idiot repugnants give in. The stupidity of it boggles the mind.

  4. gene

    February 17, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Above….”The stupidity of it boggles the mind”…..I agree SEAL. Staring to wonder what will happen in the months to come. We are in a part of the world where history tells us their has been little peace for centuries. A few hundred thousand soldiers from any country want change this fact but several hundred well placed nukes would. Of course whats left of the area wouldn’t be inhabitible for years possibly. The oil infrastructure would disappear and we (america) would truely become the great satan. I find it hard to imagine any political solution that would be lasting and safe, given the history of the middle east. Why not just get the hell out and let them kill each other until some sect comes out on top. We are their for the oil and to try to establish a foothole. Can’t see that happening without some use of nukes. Keep and I on Iran.