The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Monday, March 31, 2008

News & Views 03/31/08

Photo: Iraqi youths gather around the wreckage of an Iraqi army armoured vehicle following days of clashes with Iraqi Shiite fighters in the southern city of Basra. Gun-toting fighters of hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr melted away from Iraqi streets on Monday after week-long clashes with security forces that killed at least 461 people. (AFP/Sssam al-Sudani)

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Monday: 2 US Soldiers, 50 Iraqis Killed; 41 Iraqis Wounded

Sunday: 144 Iraqis, 2 Americans Killed, 59 Iraqis Wounded

At least 461 killed in Iraq clashes: AFP tally

210 gunmen killed, 600 wounded in military campaign in Basra

Some 210 gunmen were killed, 600 others wounded and 155 captured since the beginning of Operation Saulat al-Forsan (Knights' Assault) in the province of Basra last week, the Iraqi interior ministry said on Monday.

23 civilians killed, injured in U.S. bombardment on Sadr City

285 gunmen killed,wounded in Thi-Qar - governor

109 people killed, 634 others wounded in Sadr city

US strikes kill 41 in Baghdad

US raids have claimed the lives of at least 41 Iraqi fighters, most of them Mahdi Army members, in eastern and northeastern Baghdad.

Karbala residents pray for end to clashes

"Will there ever be an end to armed clashes that gripped the city for months now?" Ahmed al-Yasseri, a local resident of Karbala, keeps wondering but eventually gets no answer. Yasseri believes that incidents in the holy Shiite city, 130 km south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, are nothing but a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." "The armed clashes that have been shaking Karbala since Wednesday evening seem to have no end at all. It looks as if there is somebody toiling to make sure these incidents would continue," a perplexed Yasseri told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

Kidnappers free Iraqi spokesman

The famous civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation has been released after being kidnapped last Thursday, Iraqi TV reports. According to Iraqi government television, Tahseen al-Shiekhly was freed in eastern Baghdad Monday evening four days after he was seized by gunmen from his home. Al-Shiekhly serves as the civilian spokesman for the Baghdad military command and regularly appears before reporters to tout improvements in security.

Basra clashes leave Iraqis hungry

Residents in southern Iraq are hopeful that the Mahdi Army will heed leader Mustaqa al-Sadr's call to withdraw from the streets. For nearly a week, clashes between al-Sadr's forces and the government have forced hundreds of families in Basra, Kut and Kerbala to seek safety inside their homes. At least 300 people have reportedly died since an Iraqi military crackdown in Basra last week sparked fighting across the country. The operation was aimed at disarming the city's warring Shia militias, including the al-Mahdi Army, as well as crushing a number of criminal gangs. But many Iraqi civilians say the fighting is spilling over to their lives. "We need food and water," Abu Kareem, a Basra resident, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview. "Electricity has been cut off [for] three days and all food we had in our refrigerators has been lost."

…. Ali Dureid, another Basra resident, told Al Jazeera that after his brother has been killed outside his home, the family had to wait for hours before carrying the body inside. They also had to delay his burial for two days while they waited for fighting to subside in their neighbourhood. "A foul smell started to come from his body," 34-year-old Duraid said. Dureid added that he understood why the al-Mahdi Army militia have taken up arms, but said the killing of innocent civilians does not ultimately serve their interests. "They are fighting to be recognised, but how can Iraqis [recognise] them if what they are doing is letting innocent civilians die under their ideals?"

IRAQ: Hard times in Sadr-land

As cleric Muqtada Sadr called Sunday for his supporters to end their fighting with the government across Iraq, horrible accounts have emerged of civilian suffering in neighborhoods in Basra and Baghdad. One man from Shaab in eastern Baghdad said he watched Wednesday night as Mahdi Army fighters closed off streets and burned tires in his neighborhood. U.S. jets and choppers roared overhead. In the evening, an Iraqi soccer game was on TV; people went inside to watch Iraq play Qatar. It was then that fighters set up their mortar tubes a hundred meters from one home. Before they could fire off a round, a U.S. helicopter shot off a rocket and an explosion ripped the area.

There were seven or eight burned, bleeding bodies lying on the street. Fighters came after two or three hours and lifted the dead militiamen, some of whom were probably teenagers. The blast had shattered windows and sent shrapnel flying, injuring a 6-year-old girl. The girl's father stood on the street and cursed the Mahdi Army. He shouted that he had never wanted to get involved in the violence. Some friends told him to be quiet, that he shouldn't let anyone hear him talking that way. Eventually they led him inside his damaged house.

16,207 detainees released under pardon law

A total 16,207 detainees were released since the adoption of the general pardon law in mid-February, an official judicial source said on Monday. "The number of prisoners released since the general pardon law became in effect in mid-February 2008 reached 16,207 until Sunday," Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Bayraqdar, the official spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

The Iraq Legacy: Millions of Women's Lives Destroyed

In fact, Iraq's women have become the biggest losers in the post-invasion disaster. While men have borne the brunt in terms of direct armed violence, women have been particularly hard-hit by poverty, malnutrition, lack of health services and a crumbling infrastructure, not least chronic power cuts which in some areas of Iraq see electricity only available for two hours a day. More than 70 percent of the four million people forced out of their homes in the past five years in Iraq have been women and children. Many have found temporary shelter with relatives who share their limited space, food and supplies. But this, according to the UN refugee agency, has created "rising tension between families over scarce resources." Many displaced women and children find themselves in unsanitary and overcrowded public buildings under constant threat of eviction.

Iraq: Al-Qaeda Killing Field Found Near Farming Village

The first victim, whose head had been placed at his feet, was found on March 26 by a local village head and a U.S. Army officer who had been given the orchard's location by a man who said he had been kidnapped by Al-Qaeda last August and taken to a "jail" there but managed to escape before execution. "Smell that?" Captain Vince Morris, of Iron Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, asked when he approached the orchard on that exploratory visit. No one answered. No one needed to. The gagging stench of rotting flesh was unmistakable. And it was much too strong for the contents of just one grave. At least 51 additional clumps of remains were uncovered in two, two-hour digs by volunteers from surrounding villages later in the week. The oldest remains were in separate, shallow graves. The freshest remains -- the skeletons still had muscle and flesh holding the bones together -- were in several mass graves, the bodies heaped upon each other. Most were unearthed with their wrists tied behind their backs and with a bullet hole in the skull. Some were covered with a piece of cloth when dumped into the hole; others were not. And then there were the bodies that were wrapped in plastic. "The ones in plastic are really bad," an American soldier said. "They're just bags of mush." ….. The elderly woman said her son, Muhammad Jaber, 42, was taken away by Al-Qaeda last July when he repeatedly refused to join the group. [These are not saddam mass graves – they are bush mass graves. – dancewater]

IRAQ: Expect the unexpected

Last week, everything changed. Suddenly, there were clashes between Shiite militiamen and government forces in the streets. Mortars started falling across Baghdad. A 24-hour curfew was imposed, and on Saturxday, it was extended indefinitely. I am back to living in the bureau because of this. My wife and kids are at her mother's house in the Sunni area. My parents remain at the new house in the mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhood. We keep in touch by phone. When I spoke to my parents recently, I could hear gunfire in the background. I was worried about my wife and children, so I was surprised when I called her cell phone and she was out shopping at a neighborhood market.

Anger follows the fight with Sadr's militia

"The Charge of the Sadrs" is spray painted in black all over the numerous Iraqi Army and police checkpoints now abandoned in eastern Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods. The graffiti mocks Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's security operation – "The Charge of the Knights" – launched in Basra, the southern Iraqi oil city, last week that put Iraqi and US forces in direct confrontation with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in the capital and across the south. On Monday, one day after the Shiite cleric's call for a truce following the battle that killed hundreds of people and wounded scores of others, several conclusions are clear. Mr. Sadr has demonstrated his power, despite the blows dealt to his movement over the past few years. The government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, thanked him profusely on Monday for his decision, but vowed that the fight would continue in Basra, where militiamen have now largely melted away from the streets, but remain very much in control of their strongholds.

….. "They killed him here, look," recounts Salem Dhiab, pointing to the bullet-riddled gate where he says his neighbor, Ahmed Bayrouzi, was shot by a US sniper after venturing out Sunday in violation of the curfew to check on his sister who lives close by.

….. "We voted for a government to help us, not to do this to us," says an angry woman, who gave her name as Umm Jasem. She sold fresh eggs at the market. Her stall was reduced to a heap of charred metal. "Enough! Tell America enough."

IRAQ: Basra residents hit by surging food, fuel prices

Residents of Iraq’s second-largest city of Basra are breathing a sigh of relief after Shia radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his militia to end the clashes with government forces which erupted on 25 March. “We witnessed wars in the past: the 1980s Iraq-Iran war, 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion, but we did not go through such an experience as we did with this tragedy,” said Salim Abdul-Hussein, a 40-year-old resident of Basra’s central Jubaila area where clashes broke out. On the afternoon of 30 March Abdul-Hussein finally emerged from his home after the five-day curfew was eased in a bid to get food, water and medicines for his children and sick, elderly mother. “Food prices have at least doubled while those of other things have increased more than three times, with no bakeries and no fuel stations opened,” Abdul-Hussein told IRIN in a telephone interview.

Thousands of police officers who refused to fight Sadr are given the sack

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. [Gee, I wonder what they will end up doing….. – dancewater]

Iraq

While some areas in Baghdad and Basra remain tense, people began to move freely again this morning. Fearing another deterioration in the situation, they stocked up on food, water and other essential goods. Hospitals have used up stocks of vital medical items and require further supplies to cope with the influx of wounded patients. Access to water remains a matter of concern in certain areas. Life-saving medical services affected by the fighting Life-saving medical services have been affected by the fighting in Basra, Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. “Several ambulances were hit in Basra and some were not allowed to reach injured persons in urgent need of medical care,” said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation for Iraq.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

From Missing Links blog:

But Roads to Iraq points out that there has now been a published claim of responsibility by the Sunni resistance faction Jaish al-Muslimin, part of the Jihad and Change Front, for all of the attacks on the Green Zone since Saturday March 29 and including those of this morning (Monday March 31).

Iranian general played key role in Iraq cease-fire

Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said. Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Mondaxy in most parts of the capital. But fighting continued in the oil hub of Basra, where a six-day-old government offensive against Shiite militias has had only limited gains.

So far, 488 people have been killed and more than 900 wounded in the offensive, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said. 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.

……….. The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.

Iranian peacemaker in Iraq is on U.S. terrorist watch list

The Iranian general who helped broker an end to a week of fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern Iraq is an unlikely peacemaker. Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to end the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on watch lists of the U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. His role, which McClatchy first reported Sunxday, underscores Iran's entrenched political power and alliances in Iraq, according to analysts. [He is likely on the watch list because of his influence on peace in Iraq, rather than anything else. – dancewater]

IRAQ: Divided Arabs Deliver Little

The Arab summit held in Damascus over this weekend has convinced many Iraqis that Arab leaders do not speak for them. More than anything done or not, the very absence of many Arab leaders at the summit has left displaced Iraqis here angry. "It was a disappointment to us that some Arab leaders decided not to attend the summit in Damascus," Dr. Zeki al-Khazraji, an Iraqi refugee in Syria told IPS. "We were looking forward to the summit thinking it might discuss our agonies that have lasted too long without any sign of improvement. If not the Arab leaders, who will think of us?" Many Iraqi refugees say Arab leaders are cut off from their own people. "The Iraqi fire is spreading to the Arab world and our leaders must think of their own positions," Salim Mahmood, an Iraqi freelance journalist in Damascus told IPS. "We cannot understand why Iraqis are left alone to face daily death while Arabs just watch in silence.

Truce Calms Iraq, Weakens Prime Minister

The peace deal between al-Sadr and Iraqi government forces - said to have been brokered in Iran - calmed the violence but left the cleric's Mahdi Army intact and Iraq's US-backed prime minister politically battered and humbled within his own Shiite power base. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised to crush the militias that have effectively ruled Basra for nearly three years. The U.S. military launched air strikes in the city to back the Iraqi effort. But the ferocious response by the Mahdi Army, including rocket fire on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone and attacks throughout the Shiite south, caught the government by surprise and sent officials scrambling for a way out of the crisis. [Other reports say the rocket fire is from Sunni resistance fighters. – dancewater]

Al-Sadr trumps in latest showdown

The Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rarely ventures into the public eye. But he's never far from the minds of Iraq's leaders as one of the nation's most influential and wily political survivors. It appears he has managed again to turn a potential blow to his advantage. Al-Sadr, who directs the powerful Madhi Army militia, was facing a possible stranglehold after Iraqi forces moved last week against Shiite gangs in the southern city of Basra. Instead, al-Sadr emerged as a self-styled peacemaker and patriot after offering Sunday to rein in the Mahdi militiamen who rose up to protest the crackdown. "Al-Sadr achieved what he wanted," said Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiite politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "He stood his ground, made his point and showed he has the real power in the south, not his rivals."

The alleys of the Iraqi resistance

Alleys: they are dangerous only when used by those who grew up in them. That is the basic reason Sadr and his fighters simply will not go away in this war. What makes the case so difficult is that it is not just a question of a battle with U.S. troops, here from half a world away carrying out operations that Sadr and his fighters consider an abhorrent occupation. Some 3,500 troops in the Basra fight are Iraqis from outside the province, and witnesses say it is clear that few if any of the Iraqi security forces in the assault know the neighborhoods the way the Mahdi army does. Its fighters literally pop in and out of alleys, battling a federal force of nearly 30,000 to what is, so far, a stalemate.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

CLUELESS: McCain Expresses Surprise at Iraq Developments

McCain said the situation underscores the involvement of Iran, especially in southern Iraq. And he said he was disturbed by some of the demands of Moqtada al-Sadr, who called for a cease fire yesterday.

Our lawmakers are insanely stupid: Graham: Security has helped stabilize Iraq

Graham also identified the fight against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and the battle against Iranian-backed Shiite militants as the other key struggles in Iraq. [My bet would be that Graham thinks the Mahdi army is “Iranian-backed”. This idiot told me to my face in September 2005 that “We know what we are doing” in regards to Iraq. – dancewater]

This one is exactly backwards: Sen. Graham: 'Iranians Are Killing Americans'

And you can bet it is bi-partisan: From a comment in Juan Cole’s blog:

Obviously a few of the nuances have started to filter through to Harry Reid. Obviously too, however, Reid has mostly left it to others to 'worry their pretty little heads' about what is really going on in Iraq by making no particular effort, as with the Congress as a whole, to find sources of information which would challenge the party line, or the status quo, or the distorted and deliberately misleading assertions of the Executive Branch.

Carl Levin (Armed Services) and Joe Biden (Foreign Relations) and their House counterparts are the ones best situated to unearth the facts about Iraq, if they so choose, with committee testimony from witnesses - such as Professor Cole - not beholden to the Pentagon or the administration. It's long, long overdue for their respective Congressional committees to get down to serious business about Iraq - if only to help their "leader" sound a little more 'with it' about the shatteringly-destructive effects of $12 billion a month in taxpayer funds being distributed and spent in Iraq without any meaningful oversight, for years on end. Harry Reid might want to start learning some of the 'hard truths' about which he has seemingly remained blissfully unaware, by reading this impressive and brutally clear-eyed new overview by Chris Floyd.

And it ain’t just our politicians: CIA Chief Defends Military Action in Basra

Or just the CIA: Gates says Iraqi army appears to have performed well

[Somebody want to tell him that the Mahdi militia won? Maybe he gets confused when we say ‘Mahdi army’. – dancewater]

POLITICS: Embarrassed U.S. Starts to Disown Basra Operation

As it became clear last week that the "Operation Knights Assault" in Basra was in serious trouble, the George W. Bush administration began to claim in off-the-record statements to journalists that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had launched the operation without consulting Washington. The effort to disclaim U.S. responsibility for the operation is an indication that it was viewed as a major embarrassment just as top commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are about to testify before Congress. [But will anyone tell the US corporate media? – dancewater]

Three Turk security personnel killed in PKK clash

Three members of Turkey's security forces were killed and a number of others injured on Monday in a clash with Kurdish PKK rebels in mountains near the Iraqi border, security officials said. The clash occurred in Sirnak province where security forces have been battling members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for about a week as part of an annual spring military crackdown on the guerrillas as the winter snows melt.

COMMENTARY

British Correspondent Patrick Cockburn on Iraq's Growing Sectarian Divide and the Myth of "Success" in the US "Surge"

As a new civil war threatens to explode in Iraq between US-backed Iraqi government forces and Shia militiamen, we go to London to speak with Patrick Cockburn, Iraq correspondent for the London Independent. Covering the invasion and occupation from the ground in Iraq for the past five years, Cockburn has been described as “the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today.” He is author of the new book Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq.

They do not need any encouragement: Puppet child on Hamas TV kills Bush

Neither do these guys: French Extremists Dream of Jihad in Iraq

Rubin: Iran Saves the Surge

Has anyone noticed that Iran is saving the Bush administration's surge in Iraq?

CNN: Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday. Haidar al-Abadi, who is with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down. . . . The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held.

When Iran Revolutionary Guards helped the U.S. destroy al-Qaida's bases in Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and form an interim government under UN supervision, the Bush administration responded by putting Iran (then led by President Muhammad Khatami) on the "axis of evil." Now battles between the pro-Iranian militia brought to power by the U.S. (al-Da'wa) and a more Iraqi nationalist Shi'a militia (the Sadr movement) threaten to reverse the precarious security gains of the surge by dividing the ruling coalition of Shi'a parties. Iran convenes them on its territory, and the battle is calmed. I wonder how Bush and Cheney will react this time.

Quote of the day: The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will. ~ Qais Mizher

Iraq ruling elite needs US troops to stay in power

War News for Monday, March 31, 2008

MNF-Iraq is reporting the death of a Multi-National Division - Baghdad soldier in a roadside bombing in a northern neighborhood of Baghdad on Sunday, March 30th. No other details were released.

MNF-Iraq is reporting the death of a Multi-National Force – West Marine in a roadside bombing in al Anbar Province on Saturday, March 29th. No other details were released.

The British MoD is reporting the deaths of two Royal Marines in an explosion near Kajaki, Helmand province, Afghanistan on Sunday, March 30th. Here's NATO's official statement.

The father of a soldier listed as missing-captured in Iraq since 2004 said Sunday that the military had informed him that his son's remains were found in Iraq. Keith Maupin said at a news conference in suburban Cincinnati that an Army general told him DNA testing identified the remains of his son, Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin. He was commonly known as Matt.


Security incidents:

Baghdad:
#1: The fortified Green Zone in Iraq's capital came under mortar or rocket attack again Monday. The U.S. Embassy confirmed the attacks and said no serious injuries were reported. The U.S. military said it had no reports of major damage.

#2: In another blow to Maliki, his security adviser, Saleem Qassim Taee, known as Abu Laith Kadhimi, was killed in the fighting in Basra. The Dawa party member had lived in exile under Saddam's regime for 20 years.

#3: US air strikes and military assaults have killed 41 "criminals" in Baghdad, including 25 who died when an alleged mortar team was bombed, the American military announced on Monday. The killings occurred on Sunday in eastern and northeastern Baghdad where US and Iraqi forces have been battling the Mahdi Army militia

#4: A US military statement said American soldiers were hunting for the launch site of a rocket or mortar attack in eastern Baghdad on Sunday when their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, injuring one soldier.

#5: In northeast Baghdad, another eight "criminals" were killed when they attacked US soldiers, a separate statement said.

#6: The Iraqi Olympic Committee said Monday that its assistant secretary-general died of wounds sustained from gunmen attack last week. "Dr. Ra'ad Jaber died of wounds in a Baghdad hospital on Sunday after being attacked by gunmen in the Sa'doun Street in central Baghdad on Wednesday," Hussein al-Amidi, the acting secretary-general of the committee, told Xinhua. Ra'ad Salman, an Iraqi basketball referee was killed instantly during the attack while Fikrat Toma, coach of national basketball team, escaped the attack with a gunshot wound in his thigh, he said. The attack came as fierce clashes between Shiite Mahdi Army militiamen and the U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces spiraled in several southern Iraqi cities in addition to Baghdad.

#7: One U.S. soldier was killed after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb on Sunday north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

#8: The well-known civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation was released Monday after he was kidnapped in the capital. Tahseen al-Sheikhly was freed in eastern Baghdad, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

#9: 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.

#10: Around 4 pm, mortar shell hit Karrada neighborhood .Two people were injured in that incident.

#11: Around 4:15 pm, a roadside bomb targeted a police patrol at Mansour neighborhood (west Baghdad) .Two policemen were injured with their vehicle burned.

#12: Police found 3 dead bodies in Baghdad neighborhoods today: 2 in east Baghdad( Risafa bank) ; 1 in Jisr Diyala and 1 in Shaab. While 1 was found in Bayaa in west Baghdad in Karkh bank.


Diyala Prv:
Buhriz:
#1: Elsewhere, unknown gunmen in a car attacked a checkpoint manned by U.S.-backed Sunni fighters near Buhriz, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Four of the fighters were killed.

Balad Ruz:
#1: Around 7 am, a roadside bomb targeted a lorry at Balad Ruz (40 km east Baquba) killing its driver.

Muqdadiysh:
#1: Around 10:45 am, a roadside bomb targeted the vice governor’s convoy at Moqdadiyah (40 km east Baquba).Two of his guards were killed in that incident who were Iraqi policemen.


Latifiya:
#1: Six handcuffed and blindfolded bodies were found with gunshot wounds in a deserted area near Latifiya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.


Mahaweel:
#1: Iraqi police found a dead body in a river that was believed to be a security volunteer kidnapped a few days ago in Mahaweel, 75 km (45 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.


Basra:
#1: In Basra, Mahdi Army militants fought to keep their strongholds but were overrun by an Iraqi Security Force in the eastern neighborhood of Tanuma. U.S. and British aircraft conducted four air strikes in the city, the U.S. military said. In downtown Basra in the area of al Timimiyah, Iraqi forces surrounded the neighborhood as coalition aircraft struck Sunday morning, residents said.

Sami al-Askari also said most of Basra, where the government attempted to crack down on militia fighters, was "under control" a day after Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took his Mahdi Army off the streets.

#2: Residents buried their dead and swept rubble from the streets after quiet returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Monday. Life slowly returned to normal in Basra where Sadr's masked Mehdi Army militia fighters were no longer to be seen openly brandishing weapons in the street as they had for days. "We have control of the towns around Basra and also inside the city. There are no clashes anywhere in Basra. Now we are dismantling roadside bombs," said Major-General Mohammed Jawan Huweidi, commander of the Iraqi Army's 14th division. Shops were beginning to reopen, some for the first time in a week. Authorities said schools would reopen on Tuesday. Residents hosed down the hulks of burnt-out cars. Others drove with coffins in their trunks carrying the unburied dead.


Balad:
#1: Gunmen killed six Iraqi policemen on Sunday in an ambush on their patrol northeast of Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.


Mosul:
#1: Two gunmen were killed on Sunday and another was wounded by U.S. helicopter fire in Mosul city, while police forces there released a kidnapped citizen and wounded two armed men, official spokesperson of Ninawa Police Operations Command said. "One gunman was killed and another was wounded when a U.S. helicopter opened fire on one of the streets in al-Wahda neighborhood, southeast of Mosul," Brigadier Khalid Abdul-Sattar told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq.

#2: Unknown gunmen on Sunday kidnapped a brother of former minister of Human Rights in Mosul, northern Iraq, A Ninewa police source said. "Unknown gunmen abducted a brother of former minister of Human Rights Zuhir al-Chalabi in 17 July district, western Mosul", A Ninewa police source, who requested anonmity, told Aswat al-Iraq-Voices of Iraq.

#3: Unknown gunmen opened fire on a civilian in al-Nour neighborhood in eastern Mosul, killing him on the spot and fled to an unknown place," the source, who preferred to remain anonymity, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq.

#4: Meanwhile, the same source said that "police patrols found two bodies in eastern Mosul; one in al-Nour neighborhood, and the other was found in al-Senaa neighborhood."


Al Anbar Prv:
#1: One U.S. soldier was killed after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb on Sunday in Anbar province, western Iraq, the U.S. military said.

Fallujah:
#1: One civilian was wounded when an improvised explosive device went off near an Iraqi army patrol in central Falluja city on Monday, police said. "A roadside IED planted in al-Dhbbat neighborhood, central Falluja, went off on Monday near an Iraqi army patrol, wounding one civilian nearby," a security source, who asked not to have his name mentioned, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq.

#2: Around 8:30 am, a bicycle bomb which was parked near Al-Khulafa mosque targeted one of the Falluja governing council members’ car downtown the city. One person was killed in that incident who had bought the car from the governing member yesterday. Also four people were injured in that incident.



Afghanistan:
#1: A blast struck a NATO patrol in southern Afghanistan, killing two British soldiers, officials said Monday. The British troops were airlifted to a military hospital after they were caught in the explosion during a routine patrol Sunday, NATO said in a statement. Both died at the hospital of their injuries.

#2: In neighboring Kandahar province, a roadside bomb hit a car carrying Afghan private security guards protecting a road construction crew in Zhari district on Monday, killing three guards, said district chief Niyaz Mohammad Sarhadi.

#3: The Spanish Defence ministry confirmed yesterday that a Spanish patrol from the Qala i Naw Provincial Reconstruction Team came under fire at around 1am local time yesterday lunchtime near Moqur. The Spanish troops were taking part in a joint reconnaissance mission with Afghan police when they were attacked by a gang of unidentified individuals, who soon ran off when their fire was returned. There were no casualties and given that the troop carrier was also undamaged, the patrol completed its mission before returning to base, the Defence ministry spokesman went on to explain.

#4: Three Dutch soldiers from NATO-led forces in Afghanistan were hospitalized on Sunday after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near the town of Tarin Kowt, the Defence Ministry said. One soldier lost both his legs in the explosion and his condition was critical, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Dutch soldiers serving with Nato forces in Afghanistan were involved in two separate roadside bomb attacks on Sunday, leaving five wounded, the defence ministry said. In the first incident three people were wounded driving over a bomb while patrolling near Tarin Kowt. One man, who lost both legs in the blast, is said to be in a critical condition. The second attack came seven hours later, leaving two soldiers injured. The defence ministry said they are in a stable condition.
#5: Around 150 Norwegian soldiers and 50 Latvian soldiers were in the base when it came under attack around 4am Norwegian time. None of the rockets hit the base at Meymaneh, and no injuries were reported, Lt Colonel Jon Inge Øglænd told Aftenposten.no. All personnel were evacuated into the base's bomb shelter for two hours, said Petter Lindqvist of the defense ministry. It wasn't clear who was behind the attack or what type of rockets were used.

#6: Four New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan were fortunate to escape without injury after a roadside device exploded next to their patrol vehicle today. A four-vehicle New Zealand Defence Force patrol from the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) was travelling to a village near the border of the Baghlan province with a doctor to set up a mobile medical clinic. An improvised explosive device (IED) went off beside one of the vehicles, damaging the front and smashing the windscreen, but no shrapnel reached the four occupants.

#7: The Danish soldier was killed Monday and two other Danes were injured in heavy battles with Taliban fighters alongside British troops near the town of Gereshk, the Danish military said. Helicopter gunships were called in to the fight, which also involved tanks, heavy artillery and mortars, it said.


Casualty Reports:

Commando Ben McBean lost an arm and leg when he was blown up by a Taliban landmine in Afghanistan a month ago. The 21-year-old, recovering at a military hospital in Birmingham. Speaking of the incident from Selly Oak military hospital in Birmingham, Ben said: ? I was on patrol in a group of eight Marines checking the Taliban?s position. We were sprinting from one checkpoint to another. "As I was running I suddenly heard this huge bang. I was blown ten feet into the air and landed to see my severed foot lying several feet in front of me. Then I looked down to see my arm had snapped completely in half.

Staff Sergeant Jerry Majetich was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), critically injuring him and causing 3rd degree burns over 100% of his face, neck and scalp along with numerous other serious injuries. Jerry was deployed to Iraq in March of 2005 with the 304th Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Company, stationed south of Baghdad in support of the 184th (AA), 3rd ID. On October 18th, 2005, while traveling as the 27th vehicle in a 69-vehicle convoy as part of Operation Clean sweep, he was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). His vehicle had a bounty on it. The rear half of the vehicle disintegrated immediately, killing a member of the security detachment, who was a friend and room mate of Jerry's, and the Battalion Information Officer, also a good friend. The driver's door blew off and he was ejected from the vehicle, receiving minor burns to his right arm and leg. The gunner was thrown about 50 feet into a nearby field from the explosion, shattering his right leg and suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his arm, leg, and lower back. The propane tank in the IED set the vehicle on fire, and Jerry was trapped inside, unable to escape because the door next to him had been welded closed. His injuries include: -35% total body surface 3rd degree burns.-100% face, neck and scalp 3rd degree burns, causing the loss of all hair, both ears (his hearing is fortunately ok), most of his nose, and his vision was gone for two months, with the inability to close either eye for almost three months.-His intestines were ruptured and stomach bruised, causing the loss of 1/3 of his small intestines. Because of the multiple surgeries to his stomach, his muscles were unable to heal and he now has what is referred to as "swiss cheese" by his doctor: a total of six hernias (five in his stomach and one on his right side), which required another surgery. If not taken care of, their size would have increased, interfering with other organs.-Total amputation of his right thumb and pinky, and remaining three fingers down to the second knuckle.-Finger tip amputations to all of the fingers on his left hand.-Loss of use to right arm and shoulder beyond ten pounds.-Unable to straighten either arm due to bone growth caused body in reaction to the burns.-Unable to stay in sun light for more than a few minutes, and his body does not react well to either extreme cold or heat.-Two gunshot wounds in his upper, rear right leg with a loss of muscle and tendons.-Frequent loss of memory, both short and long term, due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).-Frequent bouts with anxiety in and out of crowds, depression and fatigue.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Iraqi Shiite fighter runs past a burning Iraqi Army armoured vehicle after Shiite fighters attacked it in the city of Basra. Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets, paving the way for an end to clashes with security forces that have killed hundreds of people. (AFP/Essam Al-Sudani)






Reported Security Incidents

Baghdad

Two MND-Baghdad soldiers killed by roadside bomb on Saturday. This was announced yesterday, but too late to make it into Whisker's post so I'm linking it here.

Note: It appears that the city-wide curfew has affected reporting. Available information is unusually sketchy. I doubt that this is close to a full accounting of security incidents in Baghdad today.

Three volleys of mortar attacks on the Green Zone during the day, no information on damage or casualties.

An Iraqi government official says at least 23 people have been killed in U.S. air strikes targeting Shiite areas of Baghdad. Unfortunately, at this time, I can find only this very limited statement, no further details.

Two bodies found dumped on Saturday.

Mosul

Colonel Ziad Qassem Sultan, commander of police 1st regiment and another officer killed in an attempt to arrest members of the Islamic State in Iraq. This is a group the U.S. conventionally labels as "al Qaeda." Yes, this other conflict is still going on.

Kirkuk

Botched bomb attack on a police commander kills three civilians.

Muqdadiya

Iraqi forces say they killed an "al Qaeda" gunman and wounded four.

Diyala Province, near Baquba

Council chief Ibrahim Hassan al-Bajlan survives a bomb attack on his motorcade, two bodyguards killed. Reuters puts this "near Saadiya," which is actually about 50 miles from Baquba.

Dhuluiya

Gunmen attack a police patrol, kill five police officers, injure two civilians.

Hilla

Police say they arrested 101 "militants" in various raids.

Hawija

Three awakening council members injured in a bomb attack on their patrol.

Najaf

Roadside bomb kills one Iraqi army officer, injures two soldiers, on Saturday.

Siniya (near Beiji)

Suicide car bomber kills 5 "Awakening Council" members, 8 others injured.



Other News of the Day

Baghdad residents face food shortages as curfew continues. Excerpt:

By Adam Brookes, BBC News, Baghdad

Since the curfew in Baghdad was extended indefinitely, the city has been dotted with military checkpoints. The curfew means no vehicles at all can move - except for those of the police and military.

That, of course, makes it much harder for militiamen to move around. They cannot transport supplies or ammunition. They cannot carry the 107mm rockets that are plaguing this city to launching sites. If they try, they risk being spotted by American overhead surveillance - perhaps by unmanned drones or helicopters.

The American military released graphic footage on Saturday, filmed from the gun camera of an Apache attack helicopter, which showed militiamen on the move. And the missile which killed them.

For Baghdad's civilians, life grows more miserable by the hour. The authorities appear to be allowing a little foot traffic but for the most part Baghdad's streets are empty. Most of its businesses are closed, as are schools. Some neighbourhood markets are open, and in calmer parts of the city people are leaving their houses to shop.

But the curfew means no fresh food is coming into the city. The vegetables on the stalls are now several days old, prompting expression of disgust from shoppers. Nonetheless, they are selling out fast as people stock up for the coming days. "Just onions and garlic left," said one after visiting a market in east Baghdad.

And prices are starting to rise. A kilo of tomatoes usually costs 1,250 Iraqi dinars (about $1). This morning, at the east Baghdad market, they were selling for 3,000 dinars. A man out shopping said he had fought his way through a crush of people surrounding a stall that still displayed a pile of ageing tomatoes. The boy working the stall refused to serve him, saying he needed to sell to local women who were trying to feed their families.

The man found his frustration tempered by the boy's insistence on serving those who needed the food most. Bakers in the same district say that in another two days they will no longer be able to bake bread.


Al-Sadr has ordered a cease fire to the Maliki government, but reports are conflicting as to whether he has made that conditional on government forces standing down and an amnesty for prisoners. It's a bit unclear how far this goes. The way I read it, he is telling his followers not to initiate attacks against government offices, but he says nothing about defending territory. Here is the BBC version as of approximately 8:00 am Eastern Time:

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities in an effort to end clashes with security forces. He said in a statement that his movement wanted the Iraqi people to stop the bloodshed and maintain its independence and stability.

Previously Mr Sadr had defied a government deadline to hand over weapons in return for cash. The fighting has claimed more than 240 lives across the country since Tuesday.

In Baghdad, the city's military command has extended a round-the-clock curfew for an indefinite period. The curfew had been due to end on Sunday morning. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militias until 8 April to surrender their weapons in return for cash.

Mr Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces. Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us."

The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees, and stop what he called illegal raids.


However, the AP version is different:

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is offering to pull his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities if the government halts raids against his followers and releases prisoners held without charge. The offer is contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.

Al-Sadr is demanding that the government issue a general amnesty and release all detainees. The statement said he also "disavows" anyone who carries weapons and targets government institutions, charities and political party offices.

There was no immediate comment from the government.


This from Aswat al-Iraq, which bases its report on the government TV station, and may therefore represent official spin.

Arbil, Mar 30, (VOI) – Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr gave instructions to his supporters on Sunday to cease fire, according to the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV station. "Sadr has sent a message to his loyalists urging them to end all armed activities," the TV channel said.

Sadr, according to the channel close to the Iraqi government, "disowned anyone attacking the state institutions or parties' offices and headquarters.""Based on responsibility towards Iraq and to stem Iraqi bloodshed and to preserve the country's unity and integrity as a prelude to its independence, I call on the people to be up to their responsibility and awareness in order to maintain Iraq's stability," Sadr said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

The Shiite leader appealed to the government to stop illegal raids and random detention campaigns and release all non-convicted detainees, particularly the members of the Sadrist bloc.




Whatever al Sadr's orders, the most recent dispatch indicates that he has no intention of disarming:

NAJAF, Iraq, March 30 (Reuters) - Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr will not hand over their weapons as part of a move to end fighting in Iraq, a top Sadr aide said.

The aide, Hazem al-Araji, also said that Sadr's followers had received a guarantee from the government that it would end "random arrests" of Sadr followers. He spoke to journalists at Sadr's office in the holy city of Najaf after distributing a statement from Sadr calling on followers to stop fighting.


It seems to me that the simplest way to put this is that al-Sadr is simply calling for a cease-fire in place, which would mean, in essence, that the government offensive has failed and the situation returns to the status quo ante, except that al-Sadr has demonstrated that the Iraqi forces are impotent against the Mahdi Army. -- C

Amnesty given to 569 prisoners in Muthanna province, under the amnesty law passed Feb. 27. Muthanna is a sparsely populated, essentially 100% Shiite province in the far south, about as far away from the sectarian and political problems afflicting most of Iraq as you can get. Just so you know.

Authorities fire a 60 member police unit for desertion during recent clashes.

Commentary and Analysis

AP's Charles Hanley looks at how well the Iraqi army is "standing up." Excerpt:

Iraq’s new army is “developing steadily,” with “strong Iraqi leaders out front,” the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army’s weapons, according to investigators. The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to “stand up” an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to “stand down” from Iraq.


The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces — in their toughest test yet — were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias. Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.


Robert Parry pulls no punches. Excerpt:

During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Yet, Frontline and other mainstream US news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.

An obvious reason why the mainstream US press can’t handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other US officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.

To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing US power structure, which hasn’t changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.

Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post’s editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.

The same is true for the New York Times’s op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won’t hail Bush’s courageous war leadership.

In evaluating this corrupt political/media elite, a historian might want to go back even further and wonder how someone as eminently unqualified and unfit as George W. Bush became president of the most powerful nation on earth.

How did a technologically sophisticated country like the United States with a relatively free press get led down this dangerous path? Why did so many American voters in 2000 believe made-up stories about Al Gore’s supposed delusions, like the apocryphal quote, “I invented the Internet”?
Awww, go ahead, read the whole thing.

Ned Parker of the LA Times deconstructs U.S. policy in Iraq. Excerpt:

The U.S. military now risks forfeiting gains with the Sadr group, arguably the most popular Shiite political movement across Iraq. Already, U.S. officers have reported an increase in the number of attacks against them in Baghdad, where soldiers had benefited from the Mahdi Army's tacit cooperation.

"It would be disastrous if the United States ended up as supporters on a crackdown on the Sadrists for reasons mainly to do with internal Shiite politics," said Reidar Visser, editor of the southern Iraq-related website historiae.org.

"The fight in Basra shows the folly of trying to control all the Shiites of Iraq through a small minority, which appears to be the current U.S. policy."

Many Iraqis have viewed the members of the post-Saddam Hussein administrations as isolated returning exiles, backed by Iran or the U.S. The officials' credibility has been diminished by government failings since the U.S.-led invasion -- notably endemic corruption, the lack of security and abysmal public services.

In contrast, the Sadr movement's foundations are built upon the legacy of Sadr's father, who challenged Hussein's rule in sermons and was killed in 1999. Its voice, fiercely anti-U.S. and staunchly nationalist, has emerged as one of the few alternatives for Iraqis. The movement has even survived a two-year stint in the government and, like other Shiite militias, its involvement in sectarian killings.

Sadr loyalists allege that as the elections approach, their group has been deliberately targeted by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council through the army and police's top commanders, where the party wields influence. The Sadr camp mostly boycotted the last local elections in January 2005, and predicts that it will rout its opponents this time.


Quote of the Day

Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the U.S. invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq's formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and "sectarian violence" has become Americans' primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.

But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq -- and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult -- is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists -- with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice -- who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country's vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq's political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.

The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq's parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least four semiautonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.


Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sadr Urges Support For 'Resistance' - al Jazeera

News & Views 03/29/08



Photo: Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest in Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad March 29, 2008. About 200 demonstrators held a rally to support the military operations in Basra and Maliki's government, in Diwaniya on Saturday. (Imad al-khozai/Reuters)

Photo: Masked members of the Iraqi security forces hold copies of the Koran as they sit in the office of Moqtada al- Sadr in Baghdad's Sadr City March 29, 2008. In Baghdad's Sadr City, Sadr's main stronghold, a group of Iraqi police and soldiers surrendered themselves and their weapons to the local Sadr office, a Reuters photographer said. The spokesman for Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, Major-General Qassim Moussawi, sought to play down the desertions, saying he had received reports of only 15 men surrendering. He said those who did so would be court-martialled. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem (IRAQ)

In photos: 'Iraq Basra Conflict'

In photos: 'Iraq Diwaniya Unrest'

In photos: 'Basra Fighting'

Photos: Iraqis fight Mahdi army

REPORTS – LIFE IN IRAQ

Saturday: 143 Iraqis, 2 US Soldiers Killed, 230 Iraqis Wounded

Friday: 163 Iraqis, 1 US Soldier Killed, 214 Iraqis Wounded

US Airstrike Kills 8 Civlians in Iraq's Basra

More Airstrikes on Basra

U.S. jets widened the bombing of Basra on Saturday, dropping two precision-guided bombs on a suspected militia stronghold north of the city, British officials said. Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, said U.S. jets dropped the two bombs on a militia position in Qarmat Ali shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Iraq – Humanitarian situation in Basra and Baghdad

Latest report on humanitarian situation in Iraq. The ICRC is concerned about the humanitarian impact of continued fighting in Basra and Baghdad. Its staff in the two cities say that many people are running out of food and water. Most shops are reported to be closed. The supply of electricity in Basra and in parts of Baghdad is intermittent or has been cut. Hospitals in Basra and in parts of Baghdad have told the ICRC that they are running out of medical stocks, food and fuel. Patients' families are reportedly bringing their own small generators to some hospitals in the capital to ensure sufficient power supplies during treatment.

Iraq: a dangerous walk to work

A white cloth fluttered from the antenna of a car to signal the two men inside were noncombatants. Heavy machine-gun fire resounded in the distance. It reminded me of the early days of the U.S.-led war, now in its sixth year. I had hoped such days were over. Iraqi authorities clamped a curfew on the capital late Thursday as clashes spread between security forces and militia fighters angry over a crackdown in the southern oil port of Basra. That didn't leave people much time to prepare and I was eager to get to the office and give my colleagues a hand. It was a beautiful spring day but most people remained holed up in their homes amid the tensions, venturing out only to buy bread and other necessities in the few stores that were open.

Tense Hours in Iraq's Sadr City

The gunfire struck like thunderclaps, building to a steady rhythm. American soldiers in a Stryker armored vehicle fired away from one end of the block. At the other end, two groups of Shiite militiamen pounded back with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. American helicopters circled above in the blue afternoon sky. As a heavy barrage erupted outside his parents' house, Abu Mustafa al-Thahabi, a political and military adviser to the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, rushed through the purple gate and took shelter behind the thick walls. He had just spoken with a fighter by cellphone. "I told him not to use that weapon. It's not effective," he said, referring to a rocket-propelled grenade. "I told him to use the IED, the Iranian one," he added, using the shorthand for an improvised explosive device. "This is more effective." After nearly a year of relative calm [HUH?? A YEAR??? – dancewater], U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen engaged in pitched battles this week, underscoring how quickly order can give way to chaos in Iraq. On this block in Sadr City, the cleric's sprawling stronghold, men and boys came out from nearly every house to fight, using powerful IEDs and rockets.

Iraq’s never-ending war

All explanations are possible for the current fighting in Basra, the largest city in southern Iraq situated in an area which floats on massive oil riches. But the reality of the situation which tells volumes about what is happening is the fact that war, in the fullest sense of the word, has been raging without interruption in Iraq for the past five years. Over those years, bombing by war planes and shelling by heavy artillery have been raging across the country, telling everyone inside and outside Iraq that conditions for normal life are no longer possible. Amid such circumstances in which villages, towns and cities turn into battle scenes, there are still some whose total state of denial spurs them to speak of successes and achievements.

Every now and then in the past five years, the government or the foreign occupiers would launch massive and bloody operations on Iraqis in major cities such as Karbala, Najaf, Baaqouba, Kut, and Basra and so on and so forth. Fierce fighting takes place inside these cities with the main fodder being innocent Iraqi civilians among them women and children. In the past five years, Iraqis have been paying dearly for the blunders first of the foreigners who came to occupy their country and second of the Iraqis these foreigners have nurtured and supported to run the country.

'I told her she was mother to a martyr'

As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and the Iraqi national army continued yesterday, witnesses described scenes in the city to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. "Yesterday we were in the street and saw a black car coming. They stopped and two men opened the boot. They dragged out an Iraqi soldier and threw him in the street and they drove away." "He was a young soldier dressed in a military uniform, he had a bullet hole in his head and there was blood on his face - even his boots were covered with blood. "We found his ID card, his name was Ahmad Raad al-Helfy. We went through his mobile phone and found a number marked "mum", we dialled and an old women answered. I told her that her son had died and that she was the mother of a martyr; she started screaming and wailing."

Iraq : Five years after the start of the conflict and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation in most part of the country remains grim.

The areas of violence are scattered and although the Southern governorates are considered safer, violence against women is increasing in Basrah. In the North, preparations are under way for the launching of a massive military intervention in Mosul to rout out the militias still masterminding numerous suicide attacks across the country. The civilian population caught in the middle is prevented from leaving and will suffer the consequences. The number of Iraqis killed by suicide attacks and fighting has decreased notably and was at the beginning of the year the lowest in almost two years, nevertheless 541 individuals lost their lives in January (Source : Health and Internal Affairs Ministries), considered a quiet month. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis now live in walled-in, ethnically cleansed, heavily guarded enclaves that they are terrified to leave. Sunnis do not venture into Shia areas, and vice-versa. Sectarian hatreds have been contained, but not resolved.

2 millions of internally displaced and 2 millions of refugees (Sources : United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Iraqi Ministry of Displaced People) are still struggling to survive in dire conditions. They cannot return to their place of origin, as their safety cannot be guaranteed. Together with the hosting communities in the governorates, they cannot rely on public services, for clean water, for the provision of electricity, for accessible and appropriate health care, for decent education, and for their share of food supplies.

REPORTS – IRAQI MILITIAS, POLITICIANS, POWER BROKERS

Maliki and the US fear the emergence of another round of national-resistance

Remarks reported this morning by Maliki, a US State Dept official, and the Iraqi Defense Minister indicate they wish they could put this genie back in the bottle, and the reason appears to be a general anxiety to the effect this could into a national resistance movement. AlHayat reports this morning (Saturday March 29) the following: “Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki--who extended his deadline for the militias to surrender their arms in exchange for monetary rewards to April 8--was intent on stressing that he did not invite the coalition forces in Iraq to participate in the Basra operations, and persons close to Maliki justified this by explaining the government's desire not to turn this fighting into a confrontation between the resistance and the occupation forces. In addition to confirming the Iraqi forces' ability in the field.”

Iraqi prime minister softens ultimatum as militias stand ground

Four days into a major government offensive in Basra, Iraqi government forces have been unable to dislodge Shiite Muslim militias from their strongholds in the southern port city, prompting Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to back off his ultimatum to disarm by Friday. As Maliki softened his demand, offering cash to anyone who turns in medium to heavy weapons in the next 10 days, U.S. military involvement intensified with U.S. aircraft striking two targets in Basra, according to a British military spokesman.

Shiite leader al-Sadr defies Iraq gov't

Anti-American Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Saturday to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, as U.S. jets struck Shiite extremists near Basra to bolster a faltering Iraqi offensive against gunmen in the city. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power. Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire Sunday would be extended indefinitely.

INTERVIEW-Iraqi FM pledges 'fight to end' with Sadrists

The Iraqi government is resolved to win a "fight to the end" against the Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia in the south of the country, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Friday. He told Reuters the authorities had no choice but to continue a four-day crackdown on the militias loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in and around Basra, Iraq's second city. Government forces have so far failed to drive Sadrist fighters off the streets.

"It was bound to happen. It was a long overdue confrontation in my view and the government has taken a decision to defeat them and it is irreversible," Zebari said. "Definitely this is a fight to the end. Otherwise there will be no government authority there," he added in an interview in Damascus ahead of a weekend Arab summit.

Police refuse to support Iraqi PM's attacks on Mehdi Army

US and British forces are increasingly playing a supporting role in the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's stalled offensive against the Mehdi Army militia. American aircraft launched air strikes in Basra yesterday and fought militiamen on the streets in Baghdad while British advisers have also been assisting Iraqi troops in Basra. Mr Maliki retreated from his demand that militiamen hand over their weapons by yesterday and extended the deadline to 8 April. This is a tacit admission that the Iraqi army and police have failed to oust the Mehdi Army from any of its strongholds in the capital and in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army has either met stubborn resistance from Mehdi Army fighters or soldiers and police have refused to fight or changed sides.

Al-Sadr Wants Arabs to Back 'Resistance'

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Arab leaders meeting in Syria to voice their support for Iraq's "resistance" to what he calls foreign occupation. [The rest of the world calls it that too, probably because THAT IS WHAT IT IS. – dancewater] Al-Jazeera television has shown a brief clip of an interview with the Mahdi Army militia leader. It says the full interview will be shown later Saturday. The broadcast is the first word from the reclusive cleric since the Iraqi government launched a crackdown against militia violence in the southern oil port of Basra earlier this week.

IRAQ: Not quite the surrender Maliki had in mind

It appears that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ultimatum to Shiite Muslim militiamen to surrender to the Iraqi government might not be working precisely as he had intended. When nobody had turned up by Friday, Maliki gave members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia 10 more days to turn in their weapons and renounce violence. Instead, about 40 members of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and National Police offered to surrender their AK-47s and other weapons this morning to Sadr's representatives in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City. One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims. "We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.

REPORTS – US/UK/OTHERS IN IRAQ

BBC: British forces have joined in Iraq fighting

The British army has joined in the fighting in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, firing artillery Saturday afternoon to support Iraqi forces, military officials said. The Defense Ministry said a few artillery rounds had been fired at militants using mortars to attack Iraqi forces in Basra. A military spokesman said while such operations were fairly routine, it was the first time ground forces had been used in connection with the recent fighting in the city, which pits Iraqi and coalition forces against militant followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iran urges end to Iraq fighting, says helps US

Iran called on Saturday for an end to fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shi'ite Muslim militants to remove any "pretext" for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shi'ite, launched a crackdown against the Mehdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra this week. Fighting has spread and exposed a deep rift within Iraq's majority Shi'ites. "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not regard the recent clashes in Iraq as being in the interest of the people of that country and calls for a speedy end to the clashes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hossein said. Speaking to the official IRNA news agency, he called for the "continuation of dialogue to find ways of establishing peace, stability and security". He added that by avoiding clashes "the people of Iraq take away any pretext for the continued illegal presence of the occupiers."

Turkish army says kills 15 PKK in N Iraq

Turkey's armed forces killed 15 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq on Thursday using long-range land weapons, and then followed up with air strikes, they said on Saturday. It was the first time Turkish forces had killed a group of Kurdish rebels inside northern Iraq since the end of a large-scale ground incursion into the neighbouring country last month, according to information given by the armed forces.

COMMENTARY

ANALYSIS-Maliki's Basra crackdown poses risk for U.S.

Iraq's crackdown on the Mehdi Army in Basra poses a dilemma for the United States, which wants Iraqi forces to take a lead on security but risks getting sucked into their violent Shi'ite feud. Security forces have battled the Mehdi Army militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq's southern oil city for days, targeting what Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called "outlaws". But there is little prospect of a swift victory. The fighting has spread through southern regions, drew the U.S. forces and led to protests in Baghdad by followers of Sadr, who say Maliki is using force to weaken his political rivals. [I am pretty sure it was bush and cheney who ordered this crackdown. – dancewater]

UK/US backed attack on Basra aims to break popular and trade union resistance

The attacking forces now besieging Basra stretched all the way to the city from Dhi Qar province. Two armoured divisions are deployed, in addition to thousands of policemen, backed by US and British planning and air cover. They have cut off electricity supplies, food and water on the city of 1.5 million people. Hundreds have been killed or injured in a savage, premeditated and unprovoked attack, now spreading to much of Iraq as the people protest and show solidarity with Basra’s beleaguered people. They describe the attack as far worse than the invasion of 2003 and begun in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam employed against Basra to crush the March 1991 people’s uprising. They remind us that the present puppet Iraqi government sentenced Saddam’s Defence Minister to death few months ago for similar crimes of waging war on civilians.

The assault is backed by the US and British occupation forces, particularly in providing air cover. US planes are also bombarding areas in the Basra, several southern cities and Baghdad, where tens of thousands marched yesterday denouncing the “puppet regime”. It is now, along with many other cities, under a strict curfew enforced by regime and occupation forces. Trade union leaders have asked us to inform the public in Britain that the government’s attack on Basra serves the occupation. The city is “steadfast” and the onslaught will end in “utter failure.” The city streets were free of the occupying forces before the assault and the regime’s attacks will make it even more dependent on the occupation forces, they stressed.

'Standing Up' Iraq Army Looks Open-Ended

Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators. The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to "stand up" an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to "stand down" from Iraq. The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces - in their toughest test yet - were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias.

RESISTANCE

Marking Five Years in IraqAsheville Reading of the Names

42 Democrats Vow a Drawdown in Iraq if They Win Seats

More than three dozen Democratic congressional candidates banded together yesterday to promise that, if elected, they will push for legislation calling for an immediate drawdown of troops in Iraq that would leave only a security force in place to guard the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Rejecting their party leaders' assertions that economic troubles have become the top issue on voters' minds, leaders of the coalition of 38 House and four Senate candidates pledged to make immediate withdrawal from Iraq the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Rights groups lash out at UN Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council 'needs to be more focused on saving lives and less focused on allowing governments to save face,' was the damning assessment of one human rights group as the Council ended its seventh regular session in Geneva on Friday.

Concert tonight aids injured Iraqi children

“It would be difficult to exaggerate the need,” said Cole Miller, the group’s founding director. Iraq’s hospital system has been destroyed, and many doctors have fled.” For the past year, No More Victims has paid for the often painful, ongoing treatment of Omar’s burns at Children’s Hospital. “He has an indomitable spirit that makes you proud to be with him,” Morris said.

Quote of the day: Has there ever in the history of man been a policy more incoherent than this one? We back a government that is essentially a proxy of our regional arch-enemy, Iran. Our Sunni "Awakening" allies, largely composed of the Baathists we removed from power in the first place, hate this government and would love to overthrow it. Our Kurdish allies are composed of two decidedly undemocratic rival mafias, at least one of which is quite friendly to our enemy Iran, and at least one of which is carrying on a low-level war with our ally Turkey. Meanwhile, the most popular political movement in the country shares our stated goal of a democratic, unified Iraq and therefore must be crushed. ~ Greg Gordon, on Informed Comment’s comment section