Category Archives: al-maliki

isil forces capture western iraq towns in anbar province

Sunni fighters expand offensive in western Iraq

Update Article:

Iraq Militants Seize Border Post In Drive To Create Islamic Caliphate

Posted: 06/21/2014 8:51 am EDT Updated: 06/21/2014 3:59 pm EDT

ANBAR, Iraq June 21 (Reuters) – Sunni fighters have seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria frontier, security sources said, smashing a line drawn by colonial powers a century ago in a campaign to create an Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran.

The militants, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), first moved into the nearby town of al-Qaim on Friday, pushing out security forces, the sources said on Saturday.

Once border guards heard that al-Qaim had fallen, they left their posts and militants moved in, the sources said.

Sameer al-Shwiali, media adviser to the commander of Iraq’s anti-terrorist squad, told Reuters the Iraqi army was still in control of al-Qaim.

Al-Qaim and its neighboring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a strategic supply route. A three-year-old civil war in Syria has left most of eastern Syria in the hands of Sunni militants, now including the Albukamal-Qaim crossing.

The Albukamal gate is run by al Qaeda’s official Syria branch, the Nusra Front, which has clashed with ISIL but has sometimes agreed to localized truces when it suits both sides.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, Rami Abdulrahman, said ISIL had pushed the Nusra Front out from many areas of eastern Syria in the past few days and their capture of al-Qaim will allow them to quickly move to the Syrian side.

ISIL already controls territory around the Albukamal gate, effectively pinching the Nusra Front between its forces in Syria and those in neighboring Iraq, said Abdulrahman, who tracks the violence.

The al Qaeda offshoot has captured swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city, Mosul. They have seized large amounts of weaponry from the fleeing Iraqi army and looted banks.

World powers are deadlocked over the crises in Iraq and Syria. Shi’ite Iran has said it will not hesitate to protect Shi’ite shrines if asked by Baghdad but Sunni-run Saudi Arabia has warned Tehran to stay out of Iraq.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 U.S. special forces advisers to help the Iraqi government recapture territory seized by ISIL and other Sunni armed groups across northern and western Iraq.

But he has held off granting a request for air strikes to protect the government and renewed a call for Iraq’s long-serving Shi’ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to do more to overcome sectarian divisions that have fueled resentment among the Sunni minority.

SHI’ITES MOBILIZE

The fighting has divided Iraq along sectarian lines. The Kurds have expanded their zone in the northeast to include the oil city of Kirkuk, which they regard as part of Kurdistan, while Sunnis have taken ground in the west.

The government has mobilized Shi’ite militia to send volunteers to the front lines.

In Baghdad’s Shi’ite slum of Sadr City, thousands of fighters wearing military fatigues marched through the streets.

They carried rocket-propelled grenades, semi-automatic rifles and trucks had mounted long-range rockets, including the new 3-meter “Muqtada 1” missile, named after Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Sadr, who has tens of thousands of followers.

Sadr has yet to throw his fighters into the recent wave of fighting but has accused Maliki of mishandling the crisis.

“These brigades are sending a message of peace. They are the brigades of peace. They are ready to sacrifice their souls and blood for the sake of defending Iraq and its generous people,” a man on a podium said as the troops marched by.

SUNNI INFIGHTING

The fighting, with strong sectarian overtones, is pushing the country towards civil war.

Iraq’s largest refinery, Baiji, 200 km (130 miles) north of the capital near Tikrit, has been transformed into a battlefield.

“Last night, three attacks on Baiji refinery were repelled and attackers … More than 70 terrorists were killed and more than 15 vehicles were destroyed,” said Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military’s commander-in-chief.

He showed aerial footage of cars and people being blown up but details of the fighting could not be independently confirmed.

The conflict has displaced tens of thousands. On Saturday evening, 15 people were wounded by a army helicopter strike in the village of Al Bu Saif, south of Mosul city, medics said.

A health official in Mosul said the wounded included two children and seven women. “Most of them are from the same family. Three are in critical condition from shrapnel wounds,” he said.

As in Syria, ISIL has started to clash with other Sunni militias in Iraq. In the town of Hawija, ISIL and members of the Naqshbandi Army, made up of former army officers as well as loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling Baath party, started fighting on Friday evening, witnesses said.

They said the clashes, in a dispute over power, killed 15 people.

“Hawija is falling apart,” a senior tribal figure from the community said before the clashes. “There are so many groups working with ISIL. Each group has its agenda.”

Hawija could be seen as the spark for Iraq’s current armed Sunni insurgency. In April 2013, Sunni protesters said security forces shot dead at least 50 of them. They were demanding greater rights from the Shi’ite-led government. After the killings, violence soared in Iraq. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Volunteers of the newly formed

Thousands of Shiite militiamen have paraded in Baghdad. | AP Photo

By ASSOCIATED PRESS | 6/21/14 9:14 AM EDT

BAGHDAD — Sunni insurgents led by an al-Qaida breakaway group expanded their offensive in a volatile western province on Saturday, capturing three strategic towns and the first border crossing with Syria to fall on the Iraqi side.

It’s the latest blow against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his political life even as forces beyond his control are pushing the country toward a sectarian showdown.

In a reflection of the bitter divide, thousands of heavily armed Shiite militiamen — eager to take on the Sunni insurgents — marched through Iraqi cities in military-style parades on streets where many of them battled U.S. forces a half decade ago

The towns of Qaim, Rawah and Anah are the first territory seized in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, since fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group overran the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi earlier this year.

The capture of Rawah on the Euphrates River and the nearby town of Anah appeared to be part of march toward a key dam in the city of Haditha, which was built in 1986 and has a hydraulic power station that produces some 1,000 megawatts. Destruction of the dam would adversely impact the country’s electrical grid and cause major flooding.

Iraqi military officials said more than 2,000 troops were quickly dispatched to the site of the dam to protect it against a possible attack by the Sunni militants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Rawah’s mayor, Hussein Ali al-Aujail, said the militants ransacked the town’s government offices and forced local army and police forces to pull out. Rawah and Anah had remained under government control since nearby Fallujah fell to the Sunni militants in January.

The Islamic State’s Sunni militants have carved out a large fiefdom along the Iraqi-Syrian border and have long traveled back and forth with ease, but control over crossings like that one in Qaim allows them to more easily move weapons and heavy equipment to different battlefields. Syrian rebels already have seized the facilities on the Syrian side of the border and several other posts in areas under their control.

Police and army officials said Saturday that the Sunni insurgents seized Qaim and its crossing, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, after killing some 30 Iraqi troops in daylong clashes Friday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists, said people were now crossing back and forth freely.

Chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi acknowledged Qaim’s fall, telling journalists that troops aided by local tribesmen sought to clear the city of “terrorists.”

The vast Anbar province stretches from the western edges of Baghdad all the way to Jordan and Syria to the northwest. The fighting in Anbar has greatly disrupted use of the highway linking Baghdad to the Jordanian border, a key artery for goods and passengers.

Al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has struggled to push back against Islamic extremists and allied Sunni militants who have seized large swaths of the country’s north since taking control of the second-largest city of Mosul on June 10 as Iraqi government forces melted away.

The prime minister, who has led the country since 2006 and has not yet secured a third term after recent parliamentary elections, also has increasingly turned to Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Shiite volunteers to bolster his beleaguered security forces.

The parades in Baghdad and other mainly cities in the mainly Shiite south revealed the depth and diversity of the militia’s arsenal, from field artillery and missiles to multiple rocket launchers and heavy machine guns, adding a new layer to mounting evidence that Iraq is inching closer to a religious war between Sunnis and Shiites.

Al-Maliki has come under growing pressure to reach out to disaffected Kurds and Sunnis, with many blaming his failure to promote reconciliation led to the country’s worst crisis since the U.S. military withdrew its forces nearly three years ago.

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new agreement will anger some iraqi groups, and extends u.s. stay

Iraqi cabinet approves U.S. troops agreement

Agence France-Presse
Published: Sunday November 16, 2008
   
   

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq’s cabinet defied fiery opposition from Shiite hardliners on Sunday and approved a wide-ranging military pact that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.

Baghdad and Washington have been scrambling for months to reach an agreement that will govern the status of more than 150,000 US soldiers stationed in some 400 bases across the country after their UN mandate expires on December 31.

The cabinet approved the agreement after a two and a half hour meeting, with 28 ministers out of 38 voting for it, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a government official said.

Iraq’s lead negotiator Muwafaq al-Rubaie told AFP on Friday he believed the draft agreement was a “very good text” and expected it to be approved by parliament as well.

“This text will secure the complete, full, irrevocable sovereignty of Iraq,” he told AFP.

The White House, too, was upbeat on Friday, describing the text of the accord as a “good agreement” that suits both nations.

The draft agreement includes 31 articles and calls for US troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.

But the pact has drawn fire from hardline nationalists, especially the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters have called for mass demonstrations to oppose any agreement with the US “occupier.”

Iraq has seen dramatic improvements in security over the past year as US and Iraqi forces have allied with local tribal militias to flush insurgents and militias out of vast swathes of the country that were once ungovernable.

The reduction in violence has also been partly attributed to an order by Sadr at the end of August 2007 to his thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia to observe a ceasefire.

But on Friday Sadr announced the creation of a new militia — the Brigades of the Promised Day — to fight the Americans and demanded that “the occupier leaves our beloved Iraq without any bases and without any accord.”

As the cabinet meeting began a roadside bomb exploded at a Baghdad checkpoint, killing three people — two of them members of a pro-government Sunni militia — according to police.

Another seven people were wounded in the attack, which took place in the capital’s northeast Al-Shaab neighbourhood.

The objections of the firebrand cleric, who is believed to be living in Iran, will have little impact on the decision, given that his party has only hold 28 seats in Iraq’s 275-seat parliament.

The agreement will now go to parliament, where it would have to be approved by a majority before Maliki would sign the agreement with US President George W. Bush.

The SOFA comprises two sections, security chapters initially drafted by the Americans and the general document, the “strategic framework agreement”, put together by the Iraqis.

On November 5, the United States gave Iraq its amended version of the pact and stated the negotiations were finished.

mc cain is clueless re: iraq, says cockburn

DEMOCRACY NOW:

  Cockburnweb

Iraq Correspondent Patrick Cockburn on the US-Iraqi Clash Over the Status of US Troops

 

The Bush administration is leveraging tens of billions of dollars in seized Iraqi assets to force the Iraqi government to accept several demands in a long-term deal on keeping US troops in Iraq. The demands have included maintaining fifty-eight permanent military bases in Iraq, immunity for American troops and contractors, a free hand to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval and control of Iraqi airspace. We speak to journalist Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent, who broke the story last week. [includes rush transcript]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Following outcry by Iraqi lawmakers, the Bush administration is now offering limited concessions in its demands for a long-term “status of forces” agreement between Iraq and the United States.  

The deal sought by the Bush administration, details of which were leaked to the press, were seen as a way of extending the US occupation of Iraq indefinitely. The demands included maintaining fifty-eight permanent military bases in Iraq, immunity for American troops and contractors, a free hand to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval, and control of Iraqi airspace. According to the London Independent, the US is now lowering the number of bases it wants from fifty-eight to “the low dozens” and says it is willing to compromise on legal immunity for foreign contractors.

The negotiations are being held before the UN mandate authorizing the US occupation expires at the end of the year. The Independent of London reported last week the US is leveraging tens of billions of dollars in seized Iraqi assets to push through its demands.

AMY GOODMAN: British journalist Patrick Cockburn broke this story last week. He is the Middle East correspondent for the London Independent and has reported from Iraq for many years now. He is the author of several books, including The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq. His latest is called Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq. Patrick Cockburn joins us now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to this country, Patrick.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you lay out for us exactly what the deal is and how you uncovered it?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, this is an extraordinary, important development in Iraq. It really will determine whether Iraq is an independent country or not. Or will it be a client state of the US?

As you reported, the US negotiators were demanding initially fifty-eight bases. They’re not calling them permanent bases, though that’s exactly what they are. The bases might have, let’s say, an Iraqi soldier outside and a single strand of barbed wire, in which case the Iraqis will supposedly be in charge of their defense, so it won’t be an American base. But everybody knows that it is.

Then there’s the question of immunity for American soldiers and Iraqi contractors, i.e. they won’t come under Iraqi law. And the US will also control airspace and have various other rights.

Now, although Ryan Crocker and President Bush are saying Iraq under this new agreement will once again be a sovereign nation, most of the rights we associate with a sovereign nation will be in the possession of the US.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the reaction in Iraq among the various forces there, as news of this has begun to dribble out?

PATRICK COCKBURN: There’s been an explosive reaction, because this is a deeply divisive demand by the US. There will be some Iraqis who will be willing to accept it, mainly maybe the Kurds. There will be others in the government who will do it. But there will be many other Iraqis, almost certainly a majority, who will see this agreement as showing that the Iraqi government is a puppet of the US. It will delegitimize it. It will lay the basis for a further deepening of the war in Iraq. So it’s an extraordinary—you know, Iraq is full of spurious invented turning points, but this really is a turning point for Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, your article suggests that Prime Minister al-Maliki himself is opposed to major parts of this proposal?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, he’s—mostly can see the downside for himself, that this is going to go down real badly with a lot of Iraqis, including people in his own majority Shia community and including people in the coalition of parties which make up his own government. And one of the senior members of his own party was saying the Americans have asked for immunity for everybody and everything, apart from the dogs they bring to Iraq. So this is not very good news for him.

But on the same time, he and his government feel at the end of the day they depend on the US, and they’re under very intense personal pressure from President Bush and Dick Cheney’s office, according to Iraqi officials I’ve spoken to, and it will be difficult for them to stop this happening. And they’ve been given a deadline of the 31st of July.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, how is the US leveraging billions of dollars to try to force through this agreement?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Iraqi reserves, the Iraqi money, is in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The reason it’s there is historical and rather surprising. It dates from 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and there are still really sanctions against Iraq as a danger to the rest of the world. That money, about $50 billion, is in the bank. But there have been many court cases brought against it. It’s protected currently by a presidential immunity. And what US negotiators in Baghdad have been implying to their Iraqi counterparts is that if they don’t cut a deal on American terms, then that presidential immunity might lapse at the end of the year, and the Iraqis wouldn’t be able to get their hands on these massive reserves, which they need very badly.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He broke the story of the US proposal to Iraq that the US is pushing through right now, which includes more than fifty military bases. Now, can you explain that? And also comment on John McCain, the once again controversial comment he made about war. This time it was on NBC. He was talking about—when asked when he thinks US troops will return from Iraq, “That’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea…Japan…in Germany. That’s all fine.” But talk about that and these bases.

PATRICK COCKBURN: You know, I’ve been going to Iraq since 1977. I spend much of my time there. I think it’s frankly a fantasy world, because Iraq—most Iraqis don’t like the occupation. There’s nothing surprising about this. Most—few countries do. So long as there is a US army there, there’s going to be resistance to it. And this current agreement will probably increase the level of violence. Now, the number of American soldiers being killed has dropped from maybe three a day to one a day, but it could go right up again at any moment.

I think Senator McCain’s idea that somehow with the end of the road, with a pacified Iraq, where you can have a United States Army sitting there, wholly accepted by the local population, and that there will be no armed attacks on it is a complete misunderstanding of the situation, you know, and it’s part and parcel of what he’s been saying for a year, that the situation in Baghdad is better than has been reported. I mean, honestly, I wish it was. I wish I could go out and report this, but—and he has the advantage—but he’s wrong. And it’s so dangerous. It’s still very difficult for reporters to really get around Baghdad and stay in one piece.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Patrick Cockburn, I’d like to ask you, in our headlines we mentioned this new attempt by the US military in Iraq to begin utilizing or turning over areas now to Shiite militias, as well, to patrol, similar to what they were doing with the Sunnis in Anbar and other areas. Your response to this increasing reliance on not even the Iraqi military, but on militias by the US military to basically pacify areas of Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah. This is based on what happened in Anbar province, this enormous province west of Baghdad, about eighteen months ago, when there was a reaction among the Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The US Army has been trying to replicate that in other parts of Iraq, mostly in Sunni areas, and they’ve been trying to now in Shia areas. A lot of this is hiring—getting local guns for hire and paying them. But first of all, these people are often—outside Anbar, are sometimes local bandits. They may have some loyalty to their employers, the US government, but they certainly don’t have any loyalty to the Iraqi government.

I think that by doing it in Shia areas, this is going to create local civil wars. Most of these people don’t have—in Shia areas, don’t really have much support. I mean, there’s a desperation for jobs, a desperation for salaries. You can always hire a man with a gun in Baghdad. But I think this is very divisive and will lead to fighting, lots of killing, if they try and introduce this in places like Sadr City, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers, the Mahdi Army, has mass support. There are—a lot of dead bodies are going to start turning up in the side streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, if this is pushed through before this president leaves office, how does it bind a future president? And what is your assessment of what these presidential candidates in the United States are suggesting for the end of war in Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, you know, they’re describing it as a security agreement and saying, well, we have such agreements with eighty countries. But, I mean, this is frankly baloney. I mean, the other countries do not have an American army present which is under continual armed attack. It’s a very different type of agreement. And of course the reason they’re saying this is that they don’t want to submit it to Congress, and they also don’t want to submit it to a referendum in Iraq. In both cases, it might go down.

I think that the candidates—I mean, what strikes me, being in Washington, is the degree to which America is absorbed in the presidential election, and Iraq has been far too much on the margins of the news, as if nothing new was developing there or the situation might be bad but it’s not getting much worse, while these enormously important developments are taking place, which are laying the basis for future violence, for future wars, not exactly going through on the nod, but they’re being smuggled through. Their significance is being downplayed by the US ambassador in Baghdad, by the administration here in Washington. And this is taking place while the whole focus is on the presidential election here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how essential is this security agreement for a possible extension of the United Nations mandate in Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, they could extend it six months. They could extend it longer. I mean, the United Nations could certainly do this. I don’t think there’s an enormous problem there, though it leaves lots of issues hanging in the air. In some ways, bringing up this over the last—initially, there was a lack of attention in Iraq to what was happening. Now there’s an explosive reaction as details leak out about this agreement. So, there are more Iraqis, including in the government party, saying on the record, “Well, maybe we don’t need the Americans at all if our sovereignty is going to be so compromised.”

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, could you explain this refusal to lift the UN designation of Iraq as a threat to international security, which started with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, even though Saddam Hussein has been executed, that makes it easier for claims against Iraq, like particularly from corporations?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah. I mean, there are these series of measures against Iraq which were originally, you know, were enforced in 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, but these have all remained pressures on Iraq over the years. This diminished formal sovereignty has made them vulnerable to legal charges, means they don’t quite have control over their own funds.

For instance, last year—I mean, theoretically these funds are all controlled by Iraq. But last year, the senior Iraqi financial officials told me that they wanted—all these funds are denominated in dollars. The dollar was sinking. The Iraqi finance minister in Central Bank thought, right, we wanted to denominate these. We don’t want to take the money out of New York. We want to denominate some of it in other currencies, in Euros, in gold, in whatever else, which won’t lose its value. And the US Treasury said, no, we don’t want that, because that will make the dollar look bad. So they couldn’t do it. And they were telling me a month or so ago they thought that this decision by the US Treasury had cost them $5 billion.

So, this is part of a pattern that you have the US making formal obeisance to Iraqi sovereignty, an independent nation, but in practice having minute control over everything that the Iraqi government does.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you very much for being with us. His brand new book is called Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq. Patrick Cockburn, just recently back from Iraq, has been reporting on Iraq for decades.

u.s.-iraq security talks hit dead end

Iraq PM: Security deal talks at ‘dead end’

SAMEER N. YACOUB
AP News

Jun 13, 2008 08:20 EST

Iraq’s prime minister said Friday that talks with the U.S. on proposals for a long-term security pact have reached an impasse over objections that Iraq’s sovereignty is at stake, but held out hope that negotiators could still reach a compromise plan.

In his strongest comments yet on the debate, Nouri al-Maliki echoed concern by Iraqi lawmakers that the U.S. proposals would give Washington too much political and military leverage on Iraqi affairs.

“The first drafts presented left us at a dead end and deadlock,” he told reporters in Amman, Jordan. “So, we left these first drafts and the negotiations will continue with new ideas until the sides reach a formula that preserves Iraq’s sovereignty.”

The security agreement would provide a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. Failure to strike a deal would leave the future of the American military presence here to the next administration.

U.S. negotiators offered new proposals this week after Iraqi lawmakers expressed outrage over the direction of the negotiations, claiming that accepting the U.S. position would cement American military, political and economic domination of this country.

“Any agreement that infringes on Iraq’s sovereignty and its components will be dismissed and will not be acceptable,” he added, promising any deal would be presented to Iraq’s parliament for final approval.

“It is a negotiation process that will continue until we reach a common ground that is acceptable by the Iraqi and the other sides,” al-Maliki said. “So, I see no reason to be worried about the possibility that Iraq will be chained by agreements. The Iraqi politicians are aware of the importance of sovereignty.”

Al-Maliki’s remarks reflected deep misgivings about the deal, which also has been denounced by Tehran. The Iraqi premier, a Shiite, is close to the predominantly Shiite Iran.

But a senior government adviser, Yassin Majid, sought to temper the comments, saying a preliminary draft had been rejected but there were “some alternative ideas still on the negotiating table” that would be presented at an upcoming meeting.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad stressed the pact was important for Iraq’s security.

“U.S. discussions with the government of Iraq on arrangements for a long-term strategic partnership and security relationship continue,” embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said. “Those discussions are based on the fundamental principal of U.S recognition of and respect for Iraq’s sovereignty.”

“We remain hopeful, as do our Iraqi government partners, regarding a successful conclusion to these negotiations,” she added in an e-mailed statement.

The mounting criticism has raised doubt that a deal could be reached before the U.S. presidential election in November. The issue also has taken on importance among Iraq’s fractured political parties as they prepare for provincial elections expected in the fall.

An aide to Iraq’s pre-eminent Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged negotiators to protect the national interest during a Friday sermon in the holy city of Karbala.

“Iraq’s sovereignty and economy must be protected,” Ahmed al-Safi told worshippers. “The Iraqi negotiators must be up to the responsibility and should have a unified point of view.”

Hundreds of followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also rallied against the agreement in Karbala.

And Sadrist cleric Sheik Dhia al-Shawki accused the United States of trying to cement its foothold in the Middle East, calling the agreement a dangerous project for Muslims.

“This agreement is a project of domination and control,” he said during his sermon in Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. “The Americans are calling for it to protect their interests in the Middle East and keep security of Israel and make it the biggest power in the region.”

The outrage has fueled tensions that already were high amid clashes between U.S.-Iraqi forces and Shiite militia fighters.

Al-Sadr issued a new statement Friday calling for restraint in an apparent bid to exert control over his Mahdi Army militia fighters.

The cleric, who is believed to be in Iran, said the militia will continue to resist U.S.-led forces in Iraq but fighting should be limited to a select group.

“Weapons will be in the hands of this group exclusively and will only be directed at the occupier,” he said, using standard rhetoric for the American forces in Iraq in a statement read after Friday prayers in the southern city of Kufa.

He warned those who disobey will be “disowned by me.”

Continued fighting despite several cease-fires called by al-Sadr has raised questions about how much control he maintains over various militia factions.

U.S. troops killed five suspected Shiite gunmen and detained two others Friday during a raid near Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, the military said.

Iraqi police spokesman Capt. Muthanna Khalid said two civilians, including a woman, also were killed and three others wounded after they were caught in the crossfire.

The U.S. military said it had no reports of civilian casualties.

___

Associated Press writers Shafika Matter and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Hamid Ahmed and Bushra Juhi in Baghdad contributed to this report.

al-sadr’s leadership role in iraq

Today in Iraq, er, Iran

But don’t read too much into the locale: Sadr has been funded by the Iranians, and may be studying in Qom, but it doesn’t mean that he’s in Khamenei’s back pocket. Qom, in fact, is a center of religious opposition to the current Iranian regime, home to some of the most distinguished ayatollahs of the quietist school–including Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who was Ayatollah Khomenei’s designated successor until Montazeri began criticizing Khomenei’s activist conception of the clerical role in government.

And Sadr’s movement is still Iraqi nationalist–and more likely to remain independent of the Iranians than Sadr’s rivals, ISCI and the Badr Corps, organizations that were born in Iran during the Ba’athist regime.

Finally, Sadr seems to have emerged from this with enhanced stature. For a leader routinely described by U.S. intelligence sources as a video game-playing goofball, Muqtadr seems to growing more deft with each crisis. It might not be a bad idea for the U.S. government to figure out a way to live this guy–but then, this U.S. government has been singularly unreceptive to good ideas.

Certainly, the President’s dopey statements about the “Iraqi Army” fighting “terrorists” in Basra send the wrongest message imaginable. There won’t be a credible Iraqi Army until there’s a credible Iraqi government. And Sadr has shown that there won’t be a credible Iraqi government without his participation.

examples of u.s. escalation

Coalition Jets Drop Bombs in Basra

30 killed, 52 wounded in Nassiriya until Friday night

U.S. jets widened the bombing of Basra

Friday: 101 Iraqis, 1 US Soldier Killed, 190 Iraqis Wounded

Thursday: 225 Iraqis, 4 Americans Killed; 538 Iraqis Hurt

Headlines courtesy of Iraq Today

americans engage further in iraqi civil war: using air power and missiles

US jets target Shiite areas in Basra
Sunday March 30 2008 00:00 IST

APBAGHDAD: US forces stepped deeper into the Iraqi government’s fight to cripple Shiite militias, launching airstrikes in the southern city of Basra and firing a missile into the main Shiite stronghold in Baghdad. The American support occurred on Friday as Iraqi troops struggled against strong resistance in Basra and retaliation elsewhere in Shiite areas – including more salvos of rockets or mortars into the US-protected Green Zone in Baghdad.

It was the first time American jets have been called to attack militia positions since Iraqi ground forces launched an operation Tuesday to clear Basra of the armed groups that have effectively ruled the streets of the country’s second-largest city for nearly three years.

One militia barrage slammed into the headquarters of the Basra police command late on Friday, triggering a huge fire and explosions when one of the rounds struck a gasoline tanker, police officials said.

Earlier on Friday, US jets struck a building housing militia fighters and blasted a mortar team that was firing on Iraqi forces, British military spokesman Maj. Tim Holloway said without further details.

Many of those groups are believed to receive weapons, money and training from nearby Iran, the world’s most populous Shiite nation.

The crackdown in Basra has provoked a violent reaction – especially from the Mahdi Army of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His followers accuse rival Shiite parties in the government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall.

Their anger has led to a sharp increase in attacks against American troops in Shiite areas following months of relative calm after al-Sadr declared a unilateral cease-fire last August.

Before dawn on Friday, a US aircraft fired a Hellfire missile in the Sadr City district – the Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army – after gunmen there opened fire on an American patrol.

The US military said the missile strike killed four militants, but Iraqi officials said nine civilians were killed and nine others wounded.

Another US airstrike targeted a rocket-propelled grenade mounted vehicle in the mostly Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiyah, killing two militants, the military said separately.

US military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Pentagon assessments, said commanders are wary of bringing major firepower into Shiite areas such as Sadr City, fearing large-scale civilian casualties could bring more backlash through Baghdad.

But, the officials said, American forces are more willing to offer air support in Basra, which is the centerpiece of the current showdown.

Defying a curfew in Baghdad, Shiite extremists lobbed more rockets or mortars against the US-protected Green Zone, which has come under steady barrages this week. The attacks prompted the State Department to order Embassy personnel to stay inside.

At least two rounds Friday struck the Green Zone offices of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, killing two guards and wounding four, his daughter and executive secretary Lubna al-Hashemi said.

w: war is peace

Bush: Iraq violence is a ‘very positive moment’

John Byrne
Published: Thursday March 27, 2008

Speaking to the Times of London in an interview published Thursday, President George W. Bush declared that the latest wave of violence in Iraq yielded “a very positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law.”

The Times headline?

“President Bush: Iraq violence is a ‘positive moment.'”

In an interview with The Times, he backed the Iraqi Government’s decision to “respond forcefully” to the spiralling violence by “criminal elements” and Shia extremists in Basra. “It was a very positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law,” the President said.

Asked if British troops had retreated to the relative safety of the Basra airbase too hastily last year, Mr Bush said that the pullback had been “based upon success” in quelling violence, adding that he remained grateful for the contribution made by British Forces from “day one” of the war.

Mr Bush, who had spent the morning being briefed on Iraq by the Pentagon before an imminent announcement on US troop levels, said that despite “substantial gains” since the US military surge began last year, much work was needed to “maintain the success we’ve had”.

The Bush Administration has a history of turning violence into “positives.”

During the 2006 war in Lebanon, for example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared the Israeli attack as “birth pangs.”

“What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing — the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East not going back to the old one,” Rice said.

During his interview with the Times, Bush disparaged those who want US troops to come home, and reinforced his power, saying as he has before, “I’m commander in chief.”

He averred that decisions would not be made by those who “scream the loudest” in calling for troops to come home.

“I understand people here want us to leave, regardless of the situation,” he said, “but that will not happen so long as I’m Commander-In-Chief.”