UK defense minister says number of British troops in Iraq to stay at 4,000
LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British defense minister on Tuesday said the number of British troops in Iraq will remain at the current level of around 4,000 for the time being.
Des Browne, briefing the House of Commons, said it would be "prudent" to halt any further reductions, particularly in light of the violence in Basra over the last week.
That was when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched an offensive against "outlaws" and "criminals" in the city, and clashes broke out between troops and Shiite militants.
The fighting, which involved Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, spread to other southern Shiite cities and Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and left hundreds dead. Watch as Iran works to bring Iraq cease-fire »
The fighting subsided after Iraqi Shiite lawmakers, Iranian officials and al-Sadr held talks and al-Sadr on Sunday urged his followers to stand down. But the operation is ongoing.
"Before the events of the last week, the emerging military advice, based on our assessment of current conditions, was that further reductions might not be possible at the rate envisaged in the October announcement -- although it remains our clear direction of travel," Browne said.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
UK defense minister says number of British troops in Iraq to stay at 4,000
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 11:49 PM
FOX NEWS 'SPECIAL REPORTS' HOST AND PANELISTS PUT ON PUBLIC DISPLAY THEIR IGNORANCE ON U.S. TROOP DEPLOYMENTS
Brit Hume, host of "Special Report" on FOX NEWS, allowed his panel of pundits, Fred Barnes, Mort Kondracke and Charles Krauthammer, to draw a comparison to the U.S. troops in Germany, Japan and South Korea, and U.S. troops in Iraq.
The trio of right-wing pundits led by Hume had the unmitigated gall to say the U.S. has had troops in Germany, Japan and Korea for over 50 years, and that Republican Presidential candidate John McCain was right when he said the U.S. might have to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years.
There is one BIG DIFFERENCE that neither Hume, Barnes, Kondracke or Krauthammer made as they sounded off about keeping troops in Iraq for another 100 years.
Not one (I repeat) not ONE U.S. soldier has been killed in Germany, Japan or Korea by enemy fire since the wars ended in those countries over a half-century ago.
To try and draw a comparison between troops in Iraq and those in Germany, Japan, and Korea is patently ignorant.
Nobody is shooting at American troops in Germany, Japan or Korea, but they sure as hell are shooting and killing Americans every single day in Iraq.
Is this what the Fox News "Special Reports" panelists want? One or two or three deaths of American troops for the next 100 years?
It boggles the mind that grown men like the panelists, and the host Brit Hume, of FOX NEWS' Special Report" can be so stupid and to think there are Americans who are just as dumb as they are and believe their convoluted explanation why Sen. McCain was right about keeping troops in Iraq for the next 100 years.
Editorial comment by BILL CORCORAN editor of CORKSPHERE
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 5:46 PM
BAGHDAD--After 19 months of struggle in Iraq, U.S. military officials conceded a loss to Iraqi insurgents Monday, but said America can be proud of finishing "a very strong second."
By , The OnionPosted on April 1, 2008, Printed on April 1, 2008
"We went out there, gave it our all, and fought a really good fight," said Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "America's got nothing to be ashamed of. We outperformed Great Britain, Poland, and a lot of the other top-notch nations, but Iraq just wouldn't stay down for the count. It may have come down to them simply wanting it more."
American tanks and infantry surged out to an impressive early lead in March 2003, scoring major points by capturing Baghdad early in the faceoff. The stage seemed set for a second American victory in as many clashes with Iraq, with commentators and generals alike declaring the contest all but decided with the fall of Tikrit in April 2003.
"In spite of jumping out to an early lead and having the better-trained, better-equipped team, I'm afraid we still came up short in the end," Casey said. "Sometimes, the underdog just pulls one out on you. But there's no reason for the guys who were out in the field to feel any shame over this one. They played through pain and injury and never questioned the strategy, even when we started losing ground."
"The troops were great out there," Casey continued. "It's not their fault the guys with the clipboards just couldn't put this one away."
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 5:23 PM
The monthly figure of people killed in Iraq rose by 50% in March compared with the previous month, according to official government counts.
A total of 1,082 Iraqis, including 925 non-combatant civilians, were killed, up from 721 in February.
The figures come from the combined counts of the health, defence and interior ministries.
March also saw an increase in bombings and intense fighting between Shia militiamen and government forces.
The number of deaths last month seems to confirm a trend of rising deaths due to violence.
More than 1,800 people were killed in August 2007. This declined to 540 in January 2008, but the figure has risen steadily since.
Although most victims appear to have been civilians, the rise in death rates among Iraqi troops and police was comparatively higher.
One hundred and two policemen and 54 soldiers were killed, compared with 65 and 20 respectively in February. The government says 641 suspected insurgents were killed.
Correspondents say the figures will be a blow to the Baghdad government and the US, which had claimed overall levels of violence had been reduced by last year's US troop surge.
Hundreds of people died in fighting last week in the southern city of Basra after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shia militias.
Reports say many of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire.
The spiritual leader of the Mehdi Army militia, Moqtada Sadr, has ordered his fighters off the streets in a deal with the authorities, who agreed to stop rounding them up.
Mr Maliki hailed the crackdown as a "success" and pledged to recruit 10,000 extra troops to keep order in Basra.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 4:54 PM
Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he was “surprised” by violent clashes between central Iraqi government and militias connected to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr last week in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. “Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans,” McCain told reporters on his campaign bus.
As MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann noted last night, at the same time McCain expressed surprise about the developments in Basra, he also got basic facts wrong about the ceasefire that halted the violence on Sunday. McCain claimed that “it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire,” not Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki:
Asked if the Basra campaign had backfired, he said: “Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire, declared a ceasefire. It wasn’t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a ceasefire. So we’ll see.’’
Watch video here: http://thinkprogress.org/?tag=Iraq
As Mother Jones’ Jonathan Stein notes today, McCain’s description of what happened is “completely misleading” and wrong. In fact, Sadr’s call for a ceasefire only came after members of Maliki’s political party traveled to Iran to broker a deal with him:
The backdrop to Sadr’s dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran’s holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.
There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.
Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.
According to the AP, “the peace deal between al-Sadr and Iraqi government forces” not only “left the cleric’s Mahdi Army intact,” but it also left Maliki “politically battered and humbled within his own Shi’ite power base.”
This is not the first time in recent memory that McCain has gotten basic facts about Iraq wrong. Two weeks ago, he repeatedly made false claims that Iran was training al Qaeda fighters in Iraq.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:24 PM
On the ground coverage in Mosul, Iraq
AP video essay showing US Army soldiers from Killer Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
Tuesday April 1st, 2008
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 1:35 PM
U.S. Deaths Confirmed By The DoD:
Reported U.S. Deaths Pending DoD Confirmation:
DoD Confirmation List
Latest Coalition Fatality: Mar 31, 2008
04/01/08 MNF: MND-C Soldier attacked by IED (Baghdad)
A Multi-National Division – Center Soldier was killed as a result of an improvised explosive device attack south of Baghdad March 23. The Soldier died of his wounds at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany March 29.
03/31/08 DoD Announces Change in Status of Army Soldier
The armed forces medical examiner confirmed on March 29, human remains recovered in Iraq were those of Staff Sgt. Keith M. Maupin, 24, of Batavia, Ohio. Maupin had been listed as missing-captured since April 16, 2004...
03/31/08 MNF: MND-B Soldier attacked by IED
A Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldier was killed at when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by an improvised-explosive device approximately 4 p.m. in northeast Baghdad March 31.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 1:14 PM
The following is a list of casualties in Iraq and other incidents across Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday. As we mentioned before, when the death of a soldier is listed as a MNF (multi national force) soldier, that is just a way the Department of Defense gets around saying it was a soldier from the United States military.
MNF-Iraq is reporting the death of a Multi-National Division - Baghdad soldier in a roadside bombing in an northeastern neighborhood of Baghdad on Monday, March 31. No other details were released.
MNF-Iraq is reporting the death of a Multi-National Division - Center Soldier in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl on Saturday, March 29th. He was wounded in a roadside bombing in south of Baghdad on Sunday, March 23rd. No other details were released.
Security incidents:Baghdad:#1: A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, up 31 percent from February and the deadliest month since August 2007, according to data compiled by Iraq's interior, defence and health ministries and obtained by Reuters.
#2: A roadside bomb wounded four people, including two policemen, in Karrada district in central Baghdad, police said.
#3: Around 3 pm, 2 mortar shells hit Zafaraniyah neighborhood near the Al-Ali Al-Adheem mosque . Three people were injured with two houses destroyed in that incident.Mahaweel:#1: Police killed one gunman in clashes on Monday in Mahaweel, 75 km (45 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
Lake Tharthar:#1: Six fighters affiliated to anti-Qaida Awakening Council groups were gunned down by unknown gunmen in Salahudin province, a provincial police source said on Tuesday. "Gunmen in a convoy of vehicles approached on Monday evening a checkpoint manned by local Awakening Council fighters in an area near the al-Tharthar Lake and opened fire, killing six fighters," Col. Hasan Ahmed from the provincial police command told Xinhua. The gunmen were pretending as they were in a wedding procession in order to approach closer to the checkpoint, Ahmed said.
Mosul:#1: One mortar bomb landed in eastern Mosul on Monday, killing one person, police said.#2: Around 12 pm, a roadside bomb exploded by mistake killed five Sahwa members and injured three others .The Sahwa members found that IED at Shurqat in Mosul and they thought they defused it.
Afghanistan:#1: A top Taliban commander who had escaped government custody twice was arrested in fighting that left three insurgents dead in southern Afghanistan, police said Tuesday. A Taliban force headed by Mullah Naqibullah attacked a police patrol Monday in Kakaran village, 12 kilometres north of Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, said Mohammad Hussain Andewal, provincial police chief. “The police returned their attack with small-arms fire and killed three Taliban militants,” Andewal said, adding, “After the gun battle calmed down, police discovered and arrested Mullah Naqibullah, who was wounded in the fighting.”
#2: Three civilians were killed as NATO aircraft targeted suspected position of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, a local official said Tuesday. "NATO aircraft pounded three persons all of them farmers when they were busy in irrigating their lands in Panjwai district Monday night killing the trio," Hajji Shah Baran the district chief of Panjwai told Xinhua.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 12:49 PM
Rockets have smashed into Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, a day after radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called a ceasefire with Iraqi and coalition troops.
There have been no reports of fatalities from the attack, which hit the compound housing the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy.Despite the violence, a citywide curfew was lifted Monday.
Big News Network.com
Businesses opened for the first time since al-Sadr's militants began fighting Iraqi and coalition forces nearly a week ago.A vehicle ban remains in place in three Baghdad neighborhoods where al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has a strong presence. Iraqi lawmakers say Iranian officials helped broker the truce with Al-Sadr's group Sunday. They say Iraqi politicians close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Iran to ask authorities to pressure al-Sadr to stop the violence.
Iran has not confirmed the reports.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 11:59 AM
A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, up 31 percent from February and the deadliest month since August 2007, according to data compiled by Iraq's interior, defense and health ministries and obtained by Reuters.
Iraqi casualties at highest level since August
By Randy Fabi 21 minutes ago
Fighting between Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militiamen last month has driven civilian deaths in the country to their highest level in more than six months, government figures showed on Tuesday.
A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, up 31 percent from February and the deadliest month since August 2007, according to data compiled by Iraq's interior, defense and health ministries and obtained by Reuters.
The figures are a blow to the Iraqi government and the United States, which have pointed to reduced overall levels of violence in recent months as evidence that a major security offensive has made significant progress.
Hundreds of people were killed and many more wounded in last week's fighting after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shi'ite militiamen in the southern city of Basra. Many of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire.
Basra was relatively calm for a second straight day on Tuesday after Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called his fighters off the streets on Sunday.
"May God bless the families of the martyrs and ask God to give them patience for what God has chosen for them," Sadr told his followers in a written statement obtained by Reuters.
A Reuters reporter in Basra said more shops had opened for business and streets were filling up with residents and cars. But many schools and government offices remained closed.
The crackdown exposed a deep rift within Iraq's Shi'ite majority -- between the political parties in Maliki's government and followers of the populist cleric Sadr.
Despite the sharp rise in casualties last month, the March figure was still much lower than the 1,861 civilians who died violently in the same month a year ago at a time when Iraq was on the verge of all-out civil war. A total of 1,358 civilians were wounded last month, compared with 2,700 a year ago.
The Iraqi data also showed 102 policemen and 54 soldiers were killed in March, compared with 65 and 20 respectively in February. It showed 641 insurgents had been killed in March and 2,509 detained.
Overall attacks have fallen since last June when 30,000 extra U.S. troops became fully deployed. Another key factor bringing down attacks was a unilateral ceasefire declared by Sadr last August. Last week's fighting had jeopardized that.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday the recent violence in southern Iraq would not deter U.S. plans to withdraw 20,000 troops by July. U.S. commanders say they expect to have 140,000 soldiers in Iraq once the drawdown is complete.
The U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker will give a much-anticipated status report on Iraq to Congress next week.
Petraeus is expected to recommend a pause in troop withdrawals to avoid losing the gains made in recent months.
Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army fighters off the streets after government authorities agreed to stop rounding up his followers and implement an amnesty to free prisoners.
Maliki on Tuesday reiterated his order to Iraqi security forces to stop their raids on Mehdi Army fighters and only arrest gunmen with a warrant.
But Sadr supporters said raids had continued.
"We have information about many operations targeting Sadr followers, especially in Basra," said Nasir al-Isawi, a member of Sadr's parliamentary bloc.
"This is very dangerous and it threatens the deal."
Iraqi security forces on Monday arrested at least 12 "criminals" in Basra and three in nearby Zubair, said Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Karim-Khalaf.
Isawi said at least 70 were arrested in the al-Hamza neighborhood in the southern Shi'ite city of Hilla.
Analysts warn that fighting could easily flare up again as various factions vie for political influence ahead of provincial elections expected to take place by October.
The government says the military operation in Basra last week was intended to impose law and order, but Sadr's followers say it was an attempt to dilute their influence ahead of the polls.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 6:36 AM
WASHINGTON — The Iranian general who helped broker an end to nearly a week of fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern Iraq is an unlikely peacemaker.
Warren P. Strobel and Leila Fadel McClatchy Newspaperslast updated: March 31, 2008 08:04:08 PM
Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to stop the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council watch lists for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology.
His role as peacemaker, which McClatchy first reported Sunday, underscores Iran's entrenched political power and its alliances in Iraq, according to analysts.
"The Iranians are into a lot of things, and have a lot of influence," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst who's now at the National Defense University in Washington.
Suleimani, about whom little is known publicly, commands the elite Quds (Jerusalem) force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. officials allege that the force is responsible for sending sophisticated roadside bombs, known as explosively formed projectiles, and other weaponry that Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq sometimes have used to kill U.S. troops.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 4:29 AM
When American soldiers get off duty in Iraq, the men usually return to their quarters, the women to theirs. But Staff Sgt. Marvin Frazier gets to go back to a small trailer with two pushed-together single beds that he shares with his wife.
By BRADLEY BROOKS and RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press Writers 2 minutes ago
In a historic but little-noticed change in policy, the Army is allowing scores of husband-and-wife soldiers to live and sleep together in the war zone — a move aimed at preserving marriages, boosting morale and perhaps bolstering re-enlistment rates at a time when the military is struggling to fill its ranks five years into the fighting.
"It makes a lot of things easier," said Frazier, 33, a helicopter maintenance supervisor in the 3rd Infantry Division. "It really adds a lot of stress, being separated. Now you can sit face-to-face and try to work out things and comfort each other."
Long-standing Army rules barred soldiers of the opposite sex from sharing sleeping quarters in war zones. Even married troops lived only in all-male or all-female quarters and had no private living space.
But in May 2006, Army commanders in Iraq, with little fanfare, decided that it is in the military's interest to promote wedded bliss. In other words: What God has joined together, let no manual put asunder.
"It's better for the soldiers, which means overall it's better for the Army," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Thornton of the 3rd Infantry.
Military analysts said this is the first war in which the Army even gave the idea any serious consideration — a reflection not only of the large number of couples sent to war this time, but also of the way the fighting has dragged on and strained marriages with repeated 12- and 15-month tours of duty.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 4:11 AM
A woman wrapped in a dirty abaya sits beneath a tree in the Green Zone, her palms turned upward awaiting the kindness of strangers.
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer 48 minutes ago
The sidewalks around the Convention Center are an ideal place for 50-year-old Um Mohammed — a nickname that means "mother of Mohammed" — to hustle for spare cash.
Beggars are reappearing in the Green Zone and elsewhere in the capital, an indication that police seem to be losing interest in carrying out orders last month to round them up. The Interior Ministry's directive followed a series of suicide attacks by homeless or disabled people who had been lured by insurgents.
"This segment of the population is an easy target for terrorist groups trying to deceive them and make them walking bombs," said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.
Um Mohammed, a beggar who would not give her real name, said she preferred the Green Zone.
"I'm getting older and weaker, and I don't have the ability to walk and beg on the streets," she said.
Except for the occasional rocket or mortar, the heavily fortified area is a haven of relative peace in the middle of a city torn by war. Home to the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy, the 3.5-square-mile area is safer than the streets where daily bombings and shootings are an ever-present threat.
And the Green Zone is full of people — Americans, Iraqi officials and others — who can afford the occasional generosity.
It is unclear where those asking for handouts are coming — from outside the Green Zone or from within the homes and villas cordoned off from the rest of Baghdad inside the Green Zone boundaries.
The Green Zone is by no means infested with beggars. But a handful do get through regularly — especially when Iraq's parliament is in session inside the protected zone. Although entries to the Green Zone are guarded, Iraqis can gain access by producing proper identification cards and submitting to a search to make sure they aren't carrying explosives or weapons.
Yaqdhan al-Dikhil, security director for the Convention Center in the Green Zone, acknowledges the risk in allowing beggars into the protected area. He said photographs of beggars have been posted at checkpoints.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:57 AM
The Iraqi military's offensive in Basra was supposed to demonstrate the power of the central government in Baghdad. Instead it has proven the continuing relevance of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, stood its ground in several days of heavy fighting with Iraqi soldiers backed up by American and British air power. But perhaps more important than the manner in which the militia fought is the manner in which it stopped fighting. On Sunday Sadr issued a call for members of the Mahdi Army to stop appearing in the streets with their weapons and to cease attacks on government installations. Within a day, the fighting had mostly ceased. It was an ominous answer to a question posed for months by U.S. military observes: Is Sadr still the leader of a unified movement and military force? The answer appears to be yes.
By CHARLES CRAIN/BAGHDAD1 hour, 47 minutes ago
In the view of many American troops and officers, the Mahdi Army had splintered irretrievably into a collection of independent operators and criminal gangs. Now, however, the conclusion of the conflict in Basra shows that when Sadr speaks, the militia listens.
That apparent authority is in marked contrast to the weakness of Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. He traveled south to Basra with his security ministers to supervise the operation personally. After a few days of intense fighting he extended his previously announced deadline for surrender and offered militants cash in exchange for their weapons. Yet in the ceasefire announcement the militia explicitly reserved the right to hold onto its weapons. And the very fact of the ceasefire flies in the face of Maliki's proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.
Sadr, in fact, finds himself in a perfect position: both in politics and out of it, part of the establishment and yet anti-establishment. Despite the fighting, he never pulled his allies out of the government or withdrew his support from Maliki in Parliament, which he could have done. Nor did he demand that all his followers leave Parliament and work outside the current political system. He has kept his hand in as a hedge.
Sadr has proven increasingly adept at politics. Last summer, he ordered his hand-picked ministers out of Maliki's cabinet after the prime minister refused to demand a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. To the public, it looked like he was taking a principled stand against the occupation. But the boycott did nothing to dilute his influence in the government. All the ministries his party once headed are still staffed to the gills with his followers, who continue to create jobs for other loyalists and operate Sadr's growing political machine. Sadr is, in addition to being a military force, a source of political patronage.
He can now play the victim card, arguing that Maliki and the Americans had attacked him and his loyalists, even while allowing the militias of his Shi'ite rivals to prosper - as well as the U.S.-paid Sunni militias that are now being integrated into the Iraqi police and army. He can reasonably argue that he is the one true Iraqi patriot, the Iraqi leader the Americans fear most. How else to explain the attack on his Mahdi Army while he was observing a unilateral ceasefire? Furthermore, like Hizballah in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 2006, the Mahdi Army can claim a victory by simply surviving an assault by an Iraqi government backed by the Americans.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:43 AM
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had high hopes when the "Battle for Basra" was launched that the Iraqi Army would roll right through the Mehadi Army.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Al-Maliki found many of the Iraq Army refused to fight, and others just surrendered. Bush sent in U.S. warplanes to help, but all the U.S. warplanes did was drop their "precision-guided" bombs on civilians killing scores of women and children.
The "Battle of Basra" was a debacle for Bush and al-Maliki.
Iraq: Sadr's Brief Uprising Bloodied Maliki's Nose (and Bush's)
By Robert Dreyfuss, The NationPosted on April 1, 2008, Printed on April 1, 2008
At the start of the military offensive launched last week into Basra by U.S. -trained Iraqi army forces, President Bush called the action by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "a bold decision." He added: "I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."
That's true -- but not in the way the President meant it. As the smoke clears over new rubble in Iraq's second city, at the heart of Iraq's oil region, it's apparent that the big winner of the Six-Day War in Basra are the forces of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army faced down the Iraqi armed forces not only in Basra, but in Baghdad, as well as in Kut, Amarah, Nasiriyah, and Diwaniya, capitals of four key southern provinces. That leaves Sadr, an anti-American rabble rouser and nationalist who demands an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and who has grown increasingly close to Iran of late, in a far stronger position that he was a week ago. In Basra, he's the boss. An Iraqi reporter for the New York Times, who managed to get into Basra during the fighting, concluded that the thousands of Mahdi Army militiamen that control most of the city remained in charge. "There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will," he wrote.
The other big winner in the latest round of Shiite-vs.-Shiite civil war is Iran. For the past five years, Iran has built up enormous political, economic and military clout in Iraq, right under the noses of 170,000 surge-inflated U.S. occupying forces. (For details, see my March 10 Nation article, "Is Iran Winning the Iraq War?") Iran has strong ties to Iraq's ruling Shiite alliance, which is dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, whose militia, the Badr Corps, was armed, trained, financed and commanded by Iranians during two decades in exile in Iran. Since then, hedging its bets, Iran built a close relationship to Sadr's Mahdi Army as well, and Sadr himself has spent most of the time since the start of the U.S. surge last January in Iran*. In addition, Iran has armed and trained a loose collection of fighters that U.S. military commanders call "Special Groups," paramilitary fighters who've kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks on American troops.
Thus, it was no surprise when Hadi al-Ameri, the commander of the Badr Corps and a leading member of ISCI, traveled over the weekend to Iran's religious capital of Qom to negotiate the truce with Sadr that resulted in a shaky ceasefire in Basra.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:24 AM
Thousands of police officers were reported to have refused fighting the militiamen and at least two army regiments joined them with their weapons in Baghdad.
US-Backed Iraqi Gov Fires Thousands of Cops and Soldiers who Refused to Fight Sadr
By AzzamanPosted on April 1, 2008, Printed on April 1, 2008
Interior Minister Jawad Boulani has ordered the dismissal of thousands of police members and officers who allegedly refused orders to take part in the fight against the militiamen of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The decision covers most of the police force in the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and also several cities in the southern Iraq including Basra where most of the recent fighting took place.
The government's crackdown on Mahdi Army, the military arm of the Sadr movement in the country, which started a few days ago, came to a halt yesterday.
Several cities in southern Iraq, among them Baghdad and Basra, were placed under tight curfews as battles between the militiamen and government troops raged.
U.S. occupation troops backed the government in its bid to disarm the militias.
But the Mahdi Army has once again emerged intact as the ceasefire announced yesterday does not call for the militiamen to surrender their weapons.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:06 AM