Iraq and Afghanistan: Dual Fronts

Across Iraq, battles erupt with Mahdi Army

The Mahdi Army’s seven-month-long cease-fire appears to have come undone.

Rockets fired from the capital’s Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra.

The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans,” said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.

** The battle for Basra: Iraqis fight Mahdi army as British troops remain at base
** Violence erupts in Basra as Iraqi forces battle Mehdi Army
** Baghdad mortuary sees rise in number of corpses
** Canada:Army begins using $150,000 artillery shells in Afghanistan

Previous Updates after the jump. Please post new stories and comments about the coalition’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on this thread. (Prior weeks’ Updates here).


US military passes 4,000 death toll in Iraq
The number of US troops killed in Iraq has reached 4,000 with the deaths of four soldiers in southern Baghdad.

The four soldiers were on patrol when their vehicle was struck yesterday at around 10pm local time (7pm GMT) by a roadside bomb.

“You regret every casualty, every loss,” US vice president Dick Cheney told reporters during a visit to Jerusalem after the 4,000 death toll was passed.

“It may have a psychological effect on the public, but it’s a tragedy that we live in a kind of world where that happens.”

** 13 Iraqis Killed by Shells Fired at the Green Zone
** Iraq flag debate still flutters
** More Than 40 Dead in Afghan Violence
** Fuel Trucks for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Destroyed


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  • Five years, four thousand dead, thirty thousand wounded,
    maybe a total of sixty thousand wounded, injured, and diseased,
    plus uncounted Iraqi casualties. And we still don’t know
    why they are fighting.

    They, not us. We have shown an enormous commitment
    to the cause of Iraq, however you define that cause. But
    what do the militants in Iraq fight for?

    Because if we don’t know who they are, what they want,
    and why they keep firing explosives at us, then we have
    committed ourselves only to continuing violence.

    .
    .
    .

  • By MATT APUZZO ; Associated Press Writer
    Published: March 24th, 2008 12:30 PM | Updated: March 24th, 2008 12:33 PM

    WASHINGTON — Authorities have recovered the remains of two U.S. contractors who were kidnapped in Iraq more than a year ago, the FBI said Monday.

    The men were among five U.S. Western contractors kidnapped in separate incidents. Their disappearance received new attention earlier this month when the severed fingers of the men were sent to the U.S. military in Iraq.

    The FBI identified the contractors Monday as Ronald Withrow of Roaring Springs, Texas, and John Roy Young of Kansas City, Mo.

    Withrow worked for JPI Worldwide when he was kidnapped in January 2007. Young worked for Crescent Security Group when he was kidnapped in November 2006.

    more

  • Amidst all the solemn cluck-clucking about the 4K dead “milestone”, it surely would be instructive to see the invasion and aftermath from the perspective of those who are also taking it on the chin daily: the Iraqi people. From a reader’s comment posted onto the WaPo’s Sudarsan Raghavan article on the realities of the Fallujah “success story”, I found this link to a YouTube vid on life under the Occupation. It is located on a blog called An Arab Women Blues, written by “Layla Anwar”, and – yes – it is bitterly anti-Occupation. But what is portrayed in the various selections in the video is the absolute degradation of Iraqi daily life since 2003, and how dehumanising this vile, filthy war has become to participants and victims alike.

    http://arabwomanblues.blogspot.com/2008/03/clips-of-liberation.html

    I make no claim to the authenticity of what is shown, but one would be hard-pressed to deny that events similar to this haven’t already been catalogued, and that the actions of the soldiers aren’t in some way representative of what the Occupation has devolved into: a massive brutalisation of the human spirit.


    “les Etats-unis, c’est le seul pays à être passé de la préhistoire à la décadence sans jamais connaitre la civilisation…”…Georges Clemenceau

  • Cheney on Iraq: ‘It’s Important to Win’

    Vice President Discusses Grim Milestone of 4,000 U.S. Dead in Five-Year Iraq War

    MARTHA RADDATZ, ELY BROWN and JENNIFER PARKER
    March 24, 2008

    In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked what effect the grim milestone of at least 4,000 U.S. deaths in the five-year Iraq war might have on the nation.

    Noting the burden placed on military families, the vice president said the biggest burden is carried by President George W. Bush, who made the decision to commit US troops to war, and reminded the public that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered for duty.

    more

  • When asked about the toll multiple deployments have taken on U.S. military members, Cheney fired back with a question.

    “Of course it is, Martha,” Cheney said. “So what would be the solution to that? I mean how would you deal with that?”

    How about re-activating the military draft? No problem then with “boots on the ground”. Of course, you’d have to face some real grassroots opposition to your policies…

  • BAGHDAD (AFP) — Baghdad’s main mortuary has seen a rise in the number of corpses received in the past fortnight amid a new wave of violence in and around the Iraqi capital, its director told AFP on Monday.

    The mortuary has received an average of 15 bodies per day of people killed in attacks in Baghdad in the past two weeks, Munjid Redha Ali said.

    This is up from an average of two bodies a day since the beginning of the year, as overall violence dropped following the enforcement of a security plan across the city.

    “There is a spike in the number of corpses of people who have died violent deaths in the past 15 days,” Redha Ali told AFP.

    “We hope the trend that we are seeing now does not continue,” he said, adding most of the victims had “blast or bullet” wounds.

    Insurgents have stepped up attacks in both Baghdad and other parts of Iraq in recent weeks.

    On Sunday, at least 18 people were killed in a series of attacks in the capital, including seven when armed men opened fire on a crowd in a local market.

    On March 13, a suicide bomber killed 18 people in central Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji area.

    On March 6, a twin bomb attack in the Karada neighbourhood in the city centre killed at least 68 people.

    On February 1, two female suicide bombers detonated their explosive vests in a market killing nearly 100 people.

    The US and Iraqi authorities claim that attacks across Iraq have fallen by 60 percent since June 2007 after Washington deployed extra troops to Iraq to curb the daily bloodshed.

    But they caution that Al-Qaeda, which they blame for most of the violence, remains a dangerous force in Iraq and is far from defeated.

    Redha Ali confirmed that violence was down compared to the raging bloodshed witnessed in the months after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in February 2006, which unleashed brutal sectarian strife across Iraq.

    “After the shrine bombing, we used to receive 160 bodies on the peak days of the violence. On average, we received 70 bodies a day from the time of the bombing until the end of 2007,” he said.

    Redha Ali said since the beginning of 2008, the mortuary had noticed a new grim trend — the arrival of bodies of women, mostly married, who had been killed with gunshots to the head.

    At least two out of every 10 bodies were of murdered women between 20 and 30 years of age.

    “We have no idea what is the reason for the killing but most of them have gun shots,” Redha Ali said.

    more

  • PressTV, March 25

    Top US commander in Iraq claims he has evidence that Iran was behind the bombardment of the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

    The Green Zone came under attack by a sustained barrage of rockets Easter Sunday, with local sources reporting that 15 civilians had been killed.

    General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, alleged that the rockets ‘were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets’ and added that Iran’s actions were ‘in complete violation of promises made by President Ahmadinejad and the other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts.’

    Baghdad’s Green Zone is the seat of the Iraqi government and some foreign embassies including the US and Britain.

    Iran has repeatedly dismissed such claims, saying that a secure Iraq is to the benefit of the Islamic Republic.

    In response to a question by the BBC whether a Washington attack on Tehran would worsen the situation in Iraq, Petraeus said ‘that’s a question for somebody else, and it’s a hypothetical that I never want to discuss.’


    “Frankly, we’ve lost a lot in recent years.” – General Colin Powell

  • Heavy Fighting in Southern Iraq

    The following video is from BBC’s BBC World, broadcast on March 25, 2008

    Posted March 25th, 2008 at 6:05 am By Michael Aivaz
    Permalink

    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army fought US, Iraqi forces in Baghdad and Basra on Tuesday.

    By Sam Dagher | March 26 | page 1 of 3

    The Christian Science Monitor – Baghdad – The Mahdi Army’s seven-month-long cease-fire appears to have come undone.

    Rockets fired from the capital’s Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

    At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra.

    The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    “The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans,” said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • airpower to “control” Mahdi Army movements within Sadr City, as what happened last October when airstrikes were called in after 3a.m. raids by Yank troops looking for “kidnappers” were met with local resistance…49 largely civilian non-combatants were killed as a result.
    Either the Americans will be forced to saturate Sadr City with soldiers in order to “put down” a potentially serious uprising by regular or irregular Mahdi elements, or just send in the fighter-bombers and Apache helos and kill everything in target range, per Fallujah. Neither prospect augurs well for a “surge success” benchmark, and more recalibration of the Petraeus Doctrine seems to be in order.
    Looks as though Cheney, McBush, and other Green Zone tourists got their sorry arses out just in time.


    “les Etats-unis, c’est le seul pays à être passé de la préhistoire à la décadence sans jamais connaitre la civilisation…”…Georges Clemenceau

  • “This is a major operation aimed at outlaws and removing all heavy weapons and explosives from the hands of militias inside the city. It has now escalated into fighting between the Iraqi Army and the Mahdi Army because they are resisting,” the security official said by phone from Basra, a few hours after the start of the offensive dubbed “The Knights’ Assault.”

    Knights? Like Crusader Knights? Who the hell in our military is so stupid as to label an operation like this with imagery that is even vaguely related to the Crusades? Our lack of cultural smarts in Iraq – five years into this – never ceases to amaze me.

  • * Richard Norton-Taylor
    * guardian.co.uk,
    * Tuesday March 25 2008

    Iraqi policemen on the streets of Basra after heavy fighting erupted in the city between Iraqi forces and shiite militias. Photograph: Atef Hassan

    The heavy fighting between Iraqi forces and Shia militias in Basra is part of a long-planned showdown, according to the Iraqi government and British military commanders.

    To reinforce the point, Nouri Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is personally watching over the fighting from an Iraqi military based in Basra.

    The operation has huge implications for Britain’s strategy in Iraq.

    Although British forces are “on standby”, defence officials say, ready to provide what they call “air capability”, the UK government and commanders are desperately hoping that Iraqi forces can win this battle without needing the help of British troops on the ground.

    If they can, London will be able to argue that Iraqi forces – trained by the British – have passed their biggest test and can do their job on their own.

    If they call for help, however, then the British strategy risks falling apart.

    A steady fall in the number of British troops in Iraq is predicated on the assumption that they will not be called upon by the Iraqi army or police to help fight the militia and assorted mafia-type criminal gangs operating in and around Basra.

    As part of a reconciliation plan, the British have been releasing scores of detainees, including members of the Mahdi Army, over the past few months and now hold hardly any.

    more

  • Iraq’s ‘final showdown’ with militia men

    By Damien McElroy and Thomas Harding
    Last Updated: 2:15am GMT 26/03/2008
    Daily Telegraph

    Iraq is facing the gravest challenge to its fragile security in more than a year as the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for nationwide protests after Baghdad launched a major military operation against his supporters in Basra.

    At least 25 people were killed in fighting in the southern city after the Iraqi army raided districts that are home to militiamen loyal to Sadr.

    British forces at Basra airport closely tracked the outcome of an operation designed to provoke a “major showdown” with the city’s powerful armed factions, including Sadr’s Mahdi army.

    Major Tom Holloway, a British spokesman, said aerial support and other back-up had been provided to the Iraqi army and police in two notorious insurgent strongholds in Basra, Jumhuriyah and Tamiyah, but there had been no request for intervention on the ground.

    “There’s a fight going on downtown,” he said. “Fighting in built-up areas is tough anywhere but in Basra’s slum conditions this is a real test of the Iraqi security forces.”
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    In Baghdad, rockets rained down on the diplomatic Green Zone while fighting was reported in Sadr City, the huge district that is the cleric’s stronghold in the capital.

    His followers were reported to have spent the day making preparations for a siege. Five districts of the central city of Kut were reported to have fallen to the Mahdi army.

    Named Saulat al-Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, the Basra operation marks a major gamble for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, who arrived in the city on Monday to oversee its execution.

    Extra troops were drafted into the city last week to reinforce the 9,000-strong 14th Infantry Division, which has controlled the city since Britain withdrew from Basra Palace last year.

    “This is going to be a major battle which will be the final showdown between the army and the militias to fight over who is to control southern Iraq,” a senior defence source told The Daily Telegraph. “This will be the big test for the Iraqi 14th Division but we believe they have the capability to emerge as the winners.”

    Officials claimed the operation was designed to impose law and order across Basra but Sadr was quick to counter that his followers had been singled out. “We demand that religious and political leaders intervene to stop the attacks on poor people,” he said in a statement issued by his supporters.

    “We call on all Iraqis to launch protests across all the provinces. If the government does not respect these demands, the second step will be general civil disobedience in Baghdad and the Iraqi provinces.”

    The Iraqi army cordoned off Basra late on Monday and troops rolled in early yesterday.

    more

  • “Bigtime” making offers that al-Maliki can’t refuse:

    Chevron reportedly in talks to tap Iraq’s oil

    David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Chevron Corp. and other international oil companies are negotiating with the Iraq Ministry of Oil to begin tapping into some of the country’s largest oil fields, according to published reports.

    Specifically, the companies are negotiating for two-year contracts that would help Iraq boost production at existing oil fields.

    For years, the companies have had their eyes on long-term contracts to find and develop new oil fields in Iraq, which is believed to hold the world’s third-largest oil reserves. The contracts under discussion are far more limited than that, but they represent an important step in opening Iraq’s oil industry to foreign involvement after years of state control.

    Chevron won’t confirm or deny those reports, a company spokesman said Monday. But Chevron has repeatedly expressed an interest in Iraq. The company has provided free technical training to Iraqi oil engineers in the five years since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.

    “Generally, Chevron is interested in helping Iraq develop its industry, and we’d very much like to partner with them to help fulfill the government’s production objectives,” said spokesman Kurt Glaubitz.

    Chevron reportedly is negotiating for an agreement to help expand production at the West al-Qurna oil field, near Basra in southern Iraq. The ministry also wants to sign technical support agreements for the Rumaila and Zubair fields nearby, as well as the Kirkuk oil field in the north. And in what could be an effort to appease Sunnis, the ministry also said last weekend that it wants to develop the Akkas natural gas field in a Sunni-dominated corner of western Iraq.

    “My concern with these agreements is that they appear to be more than anything else a foot in the door, an opening for the oil companies while debate rages on over the long-term contracts,” said Antonia Juhasz, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time.”

    “It’s for the Iraqis to decide the appropriate role of U.S. oil corporations in Iraq,” she said. “The only time to be able to have this kind of negotiation is when there’s no longer an occupation.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/24/BU5PVPNP8.DTL

    “Foreign involvement”, “Chevron is interested in helping Iraq develop its industry, and we’d very much like to partner with them…”, right, let’s bring in the “free market” as opposed to the very nasty indeed “state control” (of oil production). It certainly seems logical that the big Green Zone push to “control criminal gangs in Basra” is about securing the oilfields in the South firmly in the hands of the US…sorry, the “Iraqi government”, as none of the oil multinationals want to contend with a Niger Delta issue in Iraq, and why pay for mercenaries to “protect the investment” when US and Iraqi troops can do the job free?


    “les Etats-unis, c’est le seul pays à être passé de la préhistoire à la décadence sans jamais connaitre la civilisation…”…Georges Clemenceau

  • Glenn Greenwald
    Wednesday March 26, 2008 11:07 EDT
    What can and cannot be spoken on television

    (updated below)

    I’m going to re-post the segment I posted yesterday, from Charlie Rose’s fifth anniversary Iraq show, because I want to encourage as many people as possible to watch it. If I could recommend one article or segment for Americans to read or watch regarding the current Iraq debate, it would be this interview — the entire interview — with Sinan Antoon and Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi professor and journalist, respectively, currently living in the U.S.:

  • By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
    Last Updated: 11:25am GMT 27/03/2008

    An attack on an Iraqi oil pipeline has crippled the country’s main crude pumping terminals, as fighting between Shi’ite factions and the security forces engulfed the south and centre of the country.

    A fire was reported on the Zubair-1 pipeline, the main revenue earner for the Iraqi state, near Basra. The attack effectively brought all exports through Iraq’s southern terminals to a halt.
    An Iraqi man carries the body of his son, who was killed during clashes in Basra, during a funeral, while militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr guards a street in the city
    An Iraqi man carries the body of his son, who was killed during clashes in Basra, during a funeral, while militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr guards a street in the city

    The police chief in the central city of Kut said 44 people died in clashes between followers of the powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi military supported by US forces.

    In Baghdad and across the country followers of Sadr staged mass demonstrations to denounce the government, which on Tuesday launched a military operation targeting militias in Basra.

    Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have joined mass rallies in the Sadr City, Kadhimiya and Shula districts of Baghdad, an interior ministry source said.

    “We demand the downfall of the [Nouri al-Maliki] government. It does not represent the people. It represents Bush and Cheney,” said Hussein Abu Ali, a Sadr City resident.
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    An attack on the Green Zone diplomatic compound sparked a fire that left a plume of smoke over the Tigris River.

    Commanders of the Mahdi army, Sadr’s militia, declared that they could withstand any assault the government and its US army allies could mount.

    Even though the US army has benefited from a surge in numbers in Iraq, it does not routinely confront the Mahdi army head on but instead seeks to eliminate rogue elements of the movement.

    A Mahdi army commander in Baghdad declared the group was better placed to fight now than in its uprising in 2004.

    “We are a different force than the one you saw in 2004,” he said. “We are now better organised, have better weapons, command centres and easy access to logistical and financial support.”

    “Don’t be too impressed with what the Americans have. We can still win because we have faith and a just cause on our side.”

    He boasted that rockets fired from nearby were targeting the Shi’ite-led government’s fortified enclave. “That’s going to the Green Zone,” he said.

    Explosions and gunfire were spread across Basra. The combined army and police action is supposed to take on fighters from all three of the main Shi’ite groups, including Mahdi army, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and the Fadhila party.

    In reality neighbourhoods where Sadr is strongest bore the brunt of the attacks.

    A British military spokesman said a three-way struggle by all groups for oil revenues had escalated since UK forces had withdrawn from Basra last December.

    Anthony Cordesman, a leading US security analyst, said the government-aligned SIIC was trying to boost its position ahead of elections later this year. “The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south and the Shi’ite parts of Baghdad,” he said.

    He added that residents of Basra residents said conditions in the city were becoming intolerable as food and utility supplies were cut off.

    more

  • Mr al-Maliki has gambled everything on the success of Operation Saulat al-Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, to sweep illegal militias out of Basra.

    Times – Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

    With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

    Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq’s two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection. …

    … In Baghdad, the Mahdi Army took over neighbourhood after neighbourhood, some amid heavy fighting, others without firing a shot. In New Baghdad, militiamen simply ordered the police to leave their checkpoints: the officers complied en masse and the guerrillas stepped out of the shadows to take over their checkpoints. In Jihad, a mixed Sunni and Shia area of west Baghdad that had been one of the worst battlefields of Iraq’s dirty sectarian war in 2006, Mahdi units moved in and residents started moving out to avoid the lethal crossfire that erupted. One witness saw Iraqi Shia policemen rip off their uniform shirts and run for shelter with local Sunni neighbourhood patrols, most of them made up of ex-insurgents wooed by the US military into fighting al-Qaeda. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • Col. Abbas al-Tamimi, media officer for the 14th Iraqi Army Division operating in the city, said he expected the fighting to escalate. “The gunmen have heavier and more sophisticated weapons than we have,” he said.

    NYT – By JAMES GLANZ
    Published: March 27, 2008

    BAGHDAD — An assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers to regain control of the southern port city of Basra stalled Wednesday as Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army fought daylong hit-and-run battles and refused to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power there.

    American officials have presented the Iraqi Army’s attempts to secure the port city as an example of its ability to carry out a major operation against the insurgency on its own. A failure there would be a serious embarrassment for the Iraqi government and for the army, as well as for American forces eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively on their own.

    During a briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, a British military official said that of the nearly 30,000 Iraqi security forces involved in the assault, almost 16,000 were Basra police forces, which have long been suspected of being infiltrated by the same militias the assault was intended to root out. …

    …Though American and Iraqi officials have insisted that the operation was not singling out a particular group, fighting appeared to focus on Mahdi-controlled neighborhoods. In fact, some witnesses said, neighborhoods controlled by rival political groups seemed to be giving government forces safe passage, as if they were helping them to strike at the Mahdi Army.

    Even so, the Mahdi fighters seemed to hold their ground. Witnesses said that from the worn, closely packed brick buildings of one Mahdi stronghold, the Hayaniya neighborhood, Mahdi fighters fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and sniper rifles at seemingly helpless Iraqi Army units pinned on a main road outside, their armored vehicles unable to enter the narrow streets.

    The assault has also sparked continuing violence by outraged Mahdi commanders in other major cities, including Baghdad, where the sprawling urban slum called Sadr City forms the militia’s power center in Iraq. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • Given the state of Iraq’s economy, if you offer an Iraqi a steady paycheck, he’s going to take it. He’ll pretend to swallow all of the lessons – including the bonding the military thinks it can imbue in its units, making them a cohesive all-for-one-and-one-for-all force, regardless of where everyone in the unit came from.

    Make no mistake about it – your Iraqi soldier or policeman will be very convincing to get that steady paycheck. People who, as part of their economic culture, lie their ass off every time they go to buy or sell something, get good at it. And when they are dealing with infidel non-believers, who also happen to be occupying their country, the part of the loyal soldier gets played well.

    Until the rubber hits the road. Then the thin venier of “unit cohesion” falls before the far deeper bonds of religion and tribe. And the uniform comes off, and the Iraqi soldier turns around and faces the other direction, shoulder to shoulder with his sect and tribe.

    We’ve been fooling ourselves with the paid members of the Sunni Awakening. We’ve been fooling ourselves about the Iraqi army. For too many of its soldiers, it’s just a part to be played for money, until something more important than paycheck comes along.

    Perhaps if there had been Iraqi heroes to follow – who had freed Iraq from the clutches of Saddam through their courage and skill in battle – there might have been a chance to unify Iraq behind such leaders. But we toppled Saddam, and then became occupiers, and the Iraqis don’t like us. Leaving them a little short of heroic “founding fathers” of a new nation.

  • Iraq%20JAM%20fighters%20Basra.jpg
    Iraqi Mahdi Army fighters take position during clashes in the southern city of Bara on March 26, 2008. (Photo: ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images)

    by Frank James

    The Swamp – The battles raging in southern Iraq’s Basra are more than a central Iraqi government trying to assert control over the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Instead, it’s more complicated, more like a mini civil war between competing Shiite groups vying for power.

    This is the take of Anthony Cordesman, the insightful national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Cordesman urges those trying to understand the current turmoil in Basra and elsewhere to avoid oversimplifying the current fighting into a good guys versus bad guys dynamic. In the analysis below, Cordesman refers to the Jaish al Mahdi, or JAM, also known as the Mahdi Army, which is al-Sadr’s group and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq led by Shiite cleric Abul Azziz al-Hakim

    Much of the current coverage of the fighting in the south assumes that Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr militia are the “spoilers,” or bad guys, and that the government forces are the legitimate side and bringing order. This can be a dangerous oversimplification. There is no question that many elements of the JAM have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, and that the Sadr movement in general is hostile to the US and is seeking to enhance Muqtada al-Sadr’s political power. There is also no doubt that the extreme rogue elements in the JAM have continued acts of violence in spite of the ceasefire, and that some have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents, or ignore the actions of the extreme elements of the JAM.

    But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi’ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule.

    The nature of this power struggle was all too clear during a recent visit to Iraq. ISCI had de facto control over the Shi’ite governorates in the south, and was steadily expanding its influence and sometimes control over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself for power struggle with Sadr and for any elections to come. It also was positioning itself to support Hakim’s call for a nine governorate Shi’ite federation — a call that it had clear Iranian support. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • Claire Truscott and agencies | guardian.co.uk | Friday March 28 2008

    American jets carried out two airstrikes on Shia militia in Basra overnight as they came to the aid of Iraqi forces after four days of bloodshed.

    The Iraqi forces requested aerial support from the coalition on at least two locations, according to a British military official.

    He would not give further details about the targets or say how many people were killed or injured in the bombings.

    Coalition jets have been patrolling the skies over Basra for three days. Iraqis have been in control of security since the British withdrew from the southern Iraqi city last December.

    Violence also erupted in the country’s capital. Rocket and mortar attacks against the Green Zone in Baghdad continued, killing two guards outside the Iraqi vice president’s office.

    Lubna al-Hashemi, the daughter of Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi, said at least five other guards were injured in the attacks outside her father’s offices.

    She said her father was praying at the time and was not in the offices.

    A US helicopter later fired a missile during fighting in a Shia militia stronghold in Baghdad.

    Ground forces called for the airstrike in Sadr City after coming under small-arms fire while clearing a supply route US military spokesman Lieutenan-Colonel Steve Stover said today.

    Accounts differed of those killed in the attack. Stover said four gunmen were killed, but Iraqi police and hospital officials said five civilians died and four others were wounded in the attack.
    The Iraqi goverment attempted to quell the violence, which has claimed about 200 lives.

    Iraq’s prime minister today extended a deadline for Shia militants in Basra to hand over their weapons by more than a week and offered a financial reward.

    Nouri al-Maliki said the deadline would be extended from Saturday to Tuesday April 8. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

  • Iraqi police in Basra shed their uniforms, kept their rifles and switched sides

    From The Times
    March 28, 2008

    Abu Iman barely flinched when the Iraqi Government ordered his unit of special police to move against al-Mahdi Army fighters in Basra.

    His response, while swift, was not what British and US military trainers who have spent the past five years schooling the Iraqi security forces would have hoped for. He and 15 of his comrades took off their uniforms, kept their government-issued rifles and went over to the other side without a second thought.

    Such turncoats are the thread that could unravel the British Army’s policy in southern Iraq. The military hoped that local forces would be able to combat extremists and allow the Army to withdraw gradually from the battle-scarred and untamed oil city that has fallen under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists, oil smugglers and petty tribal warlords. But if the British taught the police to shoot straight, they failed to instil a sense of unwavering loyalty to the State.

    “We know the outcome of the fighting in advance because we already defeated the British in the streets of Basra and forced them to withdraw to their base,” Abu Iman told The Times. …


    “…cunning, baffling, powerful.”

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