Monday, April 21, 2008

Iraq War Bulletin: Clashes Intensify in Baghdad; A State of Insecurity

Clashes Intensify Between Shiite Militia, U.S. Forces

By Ernesto LondoƱo
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 21, 2008; A12

BAGHDAD, April 20 -- Heavy fighting broke out in Baghdad on Sunday following a particularly deadly night in the eastern part of the city. The clashes came a day after Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to wage an open war against U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces.

U.S. troops killed at least 18 suspected militia members Sunday in airstrikes and other attacks, the military said.

U.S. forces have been conducting near round-the-clock aerial surveillance of the Shiite Sadr City district of the capital in an effort to prevent rocket and other attacks. Many of the rockets fired into the Green Zone and at other U.S. and Iraqi government facilities originate in Sadr City and adjacent neighborhoods.

Early Sunday, U.S. soldiers opened fire on a group of men planting a roadside bomb, the military said. The device exploded, killing three of the suspected militia members.

Later, in the same neighborhood, U.S. soldiers killed nine men carrying machine guns, rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

At least two suspected militiamen were killed in aerial strikes in Sadr City, and a third was fatally shot by U.S. troops, the military said. Three people were killed in a missile strike late Sunday, it said.

The airstrikes in Sadr City have enraged Sadr's followers, who say they are awaiting his order to officially suspend a cease-fire.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, issued a statement calling his government's military raids against Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra last month a "strong blow to all lawbreakers." He vowed also to take on Sunni extremists in the city of Mosul.

The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has stepped up attacks across the country in recent days, killing dozens of civilians. Mosul remains one of its strongholds.

Maliki also said the Iraqi government had made significant progress in working across sectarian lines.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced that the Sunni Arab bloc that broke away from the government last year is poised to return. The bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, has given the government a list of nominees to head ministries it formerly ran.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials found two mass graves containing 47 bodies in Diyala province, according to Maj. Gen. Abdel-Karim al-Rubaie, an Iraqi military spokesman.

Sadr issued a new statement Sunday night condemning Rice's visit and denouncing a reported raid on a Sadr office in Nasiriyah, a city in southern Iraq. A spokesman for Sadr said Iraqi security forces killed 15 members of the group during a raid on a cultural center.

Maj. Gen. Ghalib al-Jazaery, a police official in Nasiriyah, said tribesmen, not security forces, had raided the building. He said the tribesmen were retaliating against Shiite militia attacks.

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

Missing Contractor

The family of Jonathon Cote, a contractor kidnapped in Iraq in November 2006, said Sunday that a body that could be his has been recovered in southern Iraq.

U.S. officials informed the family of the discovery near Basra, they said on the Web site Free Cote. The body will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where it will be identified and an autopsy performed, according to the Web site. Cote's family declined to comment until the body is identified.
-- Associated Press

Iraq: State of instability

By Ahmed Janabi

The Iraqi military has been battling armed opposition groups

Despite US generals' asserting that the so-called "surge" strategy in Baghdad is working, Iraq has witnessed the deadliest attacks against civilians in months.

Dozens were killed across the country in apparent suicide attacks using techniques similar to those during 2006 and 2007 when Iraq appeared on the edge of a sectarian war.

Confrontations between Iraqi and US-led foreign forces and armed opposition groups have also continued to rage across Iraq, putting civilians' lives in increased danger.

Al-Qaeda, which has been on the wane since the launch of al-Sahwa - the Awakening Councils, a tribal militia set up by Sunni Iraqis with US funding to fight it - has resurfaced and its leaders resumed sending messages to the public calling on them to attack "US occupation forces".

Al Jazeera spoke to analysts and those close to the situation to find out if security is deteriorating again after months of relative stability.

-Abd al-Wahab al-Qassab, an Iraqi political analyst and adviser to Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies in Qatar:

"Many parties are interested in keeping Iraq in a state of chaos and instability. There is a serious clash of interests among many Middle Eastern countries when it comes to Iraq.

"We can say there is an intelligence war in Iraq, and those come from countries interested in keeping Iraq a volatile country, and I believe that attacking civilians is the easiest way to shake the situation.

"The US is a player in Iraq's affairs, however, they are not going to stop meddling in Iraq's affairs and really work hard to stabilise the situation in the country until they achieve their goals.

"Until that day, they are going to be a part of Iraq's dilemma."

-Abd al-Latif Rayyan, an adviser to the media office of the international forces in Iraq:

"Initially, we think it al-Qaeda who performed the recent bombings.

"We do not have solid evidence for that, but the touches and the way of execution refer to al-Qaeda. This organisation, performs such attacks as a propaganda tactic, it wants to frighten Iraqi people and let them live a fear.

"We agree that many parties are interested in keeping Iraq unstable, however, we do not have information there is a war of intelligence services in Iraq.

"Parties that publicly disagree with the Iraqi government are there, such as Iran and those who disobey Muqtada al-Sadr in laying down their arms and participate in building Iraq.

"Those who do not abide by law are many in Iraq, and we should not drop them from our circle of accusation."

-Islamic Army in Iraq fighter, speaking on condition of anonymity:

"First of all, there is nothing called an improved security situation, all that has happened is the government-backed militias who used to butcher people, were stopped from doing so for tactical reasons.

"As to us, Iraqis and non-Iraqi volunteers who dedicated ourselves to driving the US occupation out of Iraq, we never stopped working, but the US officials like to distract the world with the monster they created, al-Qaeda.

"More than 4,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, who killed them? The resistance of course, but they [the US] do not want to talk about it, they only want to continue crying loud 'al-Qaeda'.

"I can assure you, their surge policy is not working, and will never work."

-Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps military magazine, who has reported extensively from Iraq:

"As with most developments in US military and foreign policy, the intent is directed more at domestic American public opinion than the situation in the affected area.

"Right now, the war in Iraq is one of the foremost political issues in the run-up to the presidential election this November.

"The US military recognises this fact, and they are already lobbying hard to influence the policies of Republican candidate John McCain and Democrat front runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

"The message which the top commanders are trying to sell these politicians is that it would be naive to base an election platfom on the premise of an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.

"This would undoubtedly be very popular with many voters, but would only result in a regional bloodbath.

"To emphasise the commanders' argument for the ongoing necessity of US troops to stabilise Iraq, we suddenly see a spike in offensive operations.

"The Pentagon is already looking beyond the Bush era, and they are attempting to sell a continued US presence in Iraq to whomever will occupy the White House next January."

Source: Al Jazeera

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