Category Archives: civilian losses

ratcheting up in iraq: violence escalates

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 8, 2009

Filed at 4:47 a.m. ET

BAGHDAD (AP) — An official at Iraq’s Interior Ministry says at least 90 people have been killed and more than 115 wounded in a series of coordinated blasts around Baghdad.

Three bomb-rigged cars exploded in quick succession on Tuesday, striking the Labor Ministry, a court complex and the new site of Iraq’s Finance Ministry — whose previous building was destroyed in an August blast.

Earlier, a suicide bomber struck a police patrol in southern Baghdad.

The Interior Ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) — A series of coordinated attacks struck across Baghdad Tuesday — including three car-rigged bombs striking near government sites — killing at least 72 people and wounding 115 in the worst wave of violence in the capital in more than a month, authorities said.

The total of four attacks, which also included a suicide car bomb on a police patrol, showed the ability of insurgents to strike high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad in another embarrassment to Iraqi forces in their expanding role as front-line security as U.S. forces plan their withdrawal.

The blasts came as Iraqi officials prepared to announced the date for next year’s parliamentary elections — a move the security forces worry could bring an escalation in attacks seeking to discredit the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The core of the attacks hit central Baghdad with three bomb-rigged cars exploding in the span of a few minutes.

The targets were the latest assaults directly at Iraq’s authorities: the Labor Ministry building, a court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone and the new site of the Finance Ministry, whose previous building was destroyed in major attacks in August.

An official for Iraq’s Interior Ministry said at least 72 people were killed and at least 115 injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to media.

The blasts marked the most serious spate of violence in Baghdad since twin car bombs on Oct. 25 struck outside Baghdad administration offices, killing at least 155 people.

The breakdown of casualties among the sites was not immediately clear, but the most serious bloodshed had been reported outside the new Finance Ministry building.

About an hour before the Baghdad blasts, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in the mostly Sunni district of Dora in southern Baghdad, killing at least four people and injuring five others, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

In August, suicide bombers hit the Finance and Foreign ministries, killing more than 100 people.

Overall violence has dropped sharply around Iraq in the past year, but insurgents have stepped up attacks at government sites.

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halliburton and erka ltd. added to “burn pit” suit by veteran

Iraq “burn pits” suit over toxic smoke filed against Halliburton, KBR, by 2 Ky. men

By Brett Barrouquere, AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Air Force veteran and a one-time contractor who served in Iraq are suing military contractors Halliburton Co. and KBR Inc., accusing the companies of exposing them to toxic fumes and ash from “burn pits” for waste.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Monday by former Air Force Sgt. Sean Alexander Stough of Stanton and Charles Hicks of Bellevue, claims the military contractors burned everything from human remains to tires in open-air pits, exposing everyone nearby to harmful ash and smoke.

The men are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

“The burn pits are still going on,” said attorney Susan Burke, who represents the two men. “It’s everything you can think of.”

The suit in Kentucky, which names KBR, Halliburton and a Turkish company, ERKA Ltd., is the latest in a string of litigation on behalf of former military members and contract workers who claim they were exposed to toxins from burning waste in the warzone. At least 32 suits over burn pits have been filed in 32 states against KBR and Halliburton, which are both Houston-based, and other contractors.

The suits have been merged for pretrial proceedings under U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus in Greenbelt, Md. Burke expects the Kentucky suit to be transferred there for pretrial purposes.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Brown said the company denies the allegations and follows military regulations on the disposal of waste.

“KBR operates burn pits in accordance with guidelines approved by the Army,” Brown said.

A Halliburton spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday. An e-mail sent to ERKA’s offices in Adana, Turkey, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Stanton, who was stationed at Camp Bucca, near Umm Qasr, Iraq, until April 2006, and Hicks, who was stationed at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad in 2004 and 2005, both claim exposure to the burn pits caused multiple medical issues, including pulmonary and breathing problems.

Earlier this year, several members of Congress asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate potential burn pit hazards. Shinseki said his agency is conducting a health study of 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and noted the VA “has learned important lessons from previous military conflicts” as it deals with environmental exposure questions.

our soldiers and many civilians poisoned in iraq….

KBR may have poisoned 100,000 people in Iraq: lawsuit

kbrburnpitiraq

Defense contractor KBR may have exposed as many as 100,000 people, including US troops, to cancer-causing toxins by burning waste in open-air pits in Iraq, says a series of class-action lawsuits filed against the company.

At least 22 separate lawsuits claiming KBR poisoned American soldiers in Iraq have been combined into a single massive lawsuit that says KBR, which until not long ago was a subsidiary of Halliburton, sought to save money by disposing of toxic waste and incinerating numerous potentially harmful substances in open-air “burn pits.”

According to one of the lawsuits (PDF), filed in a federal court in Nashville, KBR burned “tires, lithium batteries … biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, and hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles.”

And they did so within plain sight of US troops operating in Iraq, the lawsuit states. “In some instances, the burn pit smoke was so bad that it interfered with the military mission,” the Nashville lawsuit states. “For example, the military located at Camp Bucca, a detention facility, had difficulty guarding the facility as a result of the smoke.”

The plaintiffs note that the military “did not prevent” KBR from disposing of the waste “in a safe manner that would not have harmed plaintiffs. The military wanted the defendants to solve the burn pit problems.”

The lawsuit “claims at least 100,000 people were endangered by the contractors’ ‘utter indifference to and conscious disregard’ of troops’ welfare,” notes the Courthouse News Service.

At a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Friday, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said that KBR continues to use burn pits at the US’s largest base in Iraq.   “The Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal — Kellogg, Brown, and Root — made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke,” Dorgan said.  “Burn pits are still used at the Balad Airbase in Iraq, which is the largest US base in that country.”

A 2008 report by the Pentagon asserted that “adverse health risks are unlikely” from the burn pits, but that assertion was challenged by retired Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a biomedical sciences officer who took some of the air samples used in the report.  “Although I have no hard data, I believe that the burn pits may be responsible for long-term health problems in many individuals,” the Air Force Times quoted Curtis as saying. “I think we are going to look at a lot of sick people.”

 The plaintiffs filing the lawsuits say they have suffered from health problems ranging in seriousness from shortness of breath to cancer.  Russell Keith, a paramedic from Huntsville, Alabama, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee his doctors believe his development of Parkinson’s disease was triggered by 15 months of daily exposure to the burn pits at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.  Another plaintiff claims to have developed kidney disease as a result of exposure.  Former KBR employee Rick Lambeth told the committee: “Since returning home in July, I have suffered from a number of respiratory problems related to the exposure. Now the military will not pay for my medical care.  They claim that these conditions … existed prior to service.” For its part, KBR says that it has been “improperly named” in the lawsuit, and points the finger at the military.

“There are significant discrepancies between the plaintiffs’ claims in the burn litigation against KBR and the facts on this issue,” Heather Browne, director of corporate communications, told the Nashville Post. Browne said that KBR doesn’t operate all the burn pits in Iraq; that the Army, and not the company, decides on burn pit locations; and that the Army decides when to fund an incinerator and when to burn waste in the open air.

storm of violence

Storm of Violence in Iraq Strains Its Security Forces

Christoph Bangert for The New York Times

Above, a child at a hospital after the bombings on Friday.

By STEVEN LEE MYERS and SAM DAGHER
Published: April 24, 2009
BAGHDAD — A deadly outburst of violence appears to be overwhelming Iraq’s police and military forces as American troops hand over greater control of cities across the country to them. On Friday, twin suicide bombings killed at least 60 people outside Baghdad’s most revered Shiite shrine, pushing the death toll in one 24-hour period to nearly 150.
Ali Yussef/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iraqis at the site of one of two suicide attacks outside a shrine on Friday in Baghdad burned incense and placed candles. Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage.

Like many recent attacks, the bombings appeared intended to inflame sectarian tensions, to weaken Iraq’s security forces and to discredit its government.

The bombings on Friday ominously echoed attacks like the one at a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed and pushed the country toward civil war.

The latest bombings — there have been at least 18 major attacks so far this month — so far have not prompted retaliatory attacks, but they have strained what remains a fragile society deeply divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

Two suicide bombers struck within five minutes of each other on streets leading to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson. One of the attacks, and perhaps both, were carried out by women, witnesses said.

Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage to the shrine, a golden-domed landmark in the predominantly Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad that is devoted to 2 of the 12 imams of Shiite Islam. At least 125 people were wounded, many of them also Iranians.

A loose coalition of Sunni militant forces, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for carrying out many of the recent attacks.

Seemingly attentive to the public wrath, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki took the unusual step of ordering the creation of a special committee to investigate the attack on Friday and the lapses in security that apparently allowed it to happen. The state television network, Al Iraqiya, reported on Friday evening that Mr. Maliki also ordered the detention of two national police commanders responsible for security in the area.

The killing of so many Iranians prompted Iraq to close its border crossing to Iran at Muntheriya in Diyala Province, through which thousands of Iranians a week pass on pilgrimages to Iraq’s holy Shiite sites.

The deadliest of the three bombings on Thursday struck a restaurant filled with Iranian travelers in Muqdadiya, a town in Diyala not far from the border. The toll in that attack rose to 56, with Iranians making up the majority of the dead. Over all, at least 89 people were killed in the bombings on Thursday, and more than 100 were wounded.

After the attacks on Friday, angry Iraqis who gathered amid the bloody debris blamed lax security and corruption of the police and government officials for what had happened. Some of their anger had a strongly sectarian cast.

“They have been ruling us for 1,400 years,” said a Shiite army soldier who identified himself only as Abu Haidar, referring to the Sunni domination of Shiites in Iraq. “We took it over for four years, and they are slaughtering us.”

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, says the recent attacks as part of a campaign called Harvest of the Good, which it announced in March.

In a statement distributed on extremist Web sites at the time, the group’s leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, ridiculed President Obama as “Washington’s black man” and called his plan to withdraw American forces by 2011 an “implied avowal of defeat.”

On Thursday, Iraq’s military claimed to have arrested Mr. Baghdadi, but what was touted as a major success appeared to be in question.

Extremist Web sites denied his arrest, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors claims and other statements by terrorist and extremist groups. The American military command also said in a statement that it could not confirm “the arrest or capture” of the leader, who the American military believes to be a fictitious Iraqi figurehead of a movement that includes many foreign fighters.

American and Iraqi officials have expressed growing concern that the Islamic State of Iraq, Al Qaeda and other extremists have been able to regroup and exploit gaps in security that are forming as American commanders have closed scores of combat outposts across the country, leaving day-to-day security in the hands of the Iraqis. “All the killing of Shiites is done by Al Qaeda,” a man who identified himself only as Abu Mohammed said after Friday’s bombings. “America was not able to finish them off. How can our forces do it?”

A senior national police official on Friday bluntly cited the limitations of Iraq’s security forces and their equipment for detecting explosives, typically hand-held wands used at checkpoints that the official described as fakes.

“We need to redeploy our security units to fill gaps because the American withdrawal gave the terrorists motives to reactivate their sleeper cells,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he would be punished for speaking frankly about such shortcomings. “We need more cars, modern equipment to detect explosives.”

Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

A relative of a victim of a suicide bombing outside the Kazimiyah hospital in Baghdad on Friday.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed Jasim, a senior commander at the Ministry of Defense, cited other factors behind the recent violence. They included what he called “reactions to political issues” that had divided Iraq since provincial elections in January and the release of thousands of detainees held by American forces into a feeble economy.

As part of a new security agreement with Iraq that took effect this year, the Americans are required to release all Iraqis in their custody or to transfer them to Iraqi jails. “They are releasing detainees randomly, and some of the detainees who have been released might still have contact with Al Qaeda,” General Jasim said in a telephone interview. “And when they return back to their normal life and do not find work, they return back to Al Qaeda.”

General Jasim also lamented the inability of Iraqi forces to stop attacks against what he described as soft targets, like markets and mosques. “The security procedures are continuing,” he said, “but the security forces cannot exist in every inch.”

It was not clear whether the attacks on Friday were specifically aimed at Iranians or the Shiite site they were visiting. The chief administrator at the shrine, Sheik Fadhil al-Anbari, blamed the police for failing to stop the bombings, which he said were intended to disrupt an economy that the visiting pilgrims had bolstered.

“The crowds of the Iranian visitors have brought a boom to the economy in Kadhimiya, and Al Qaeda does not want this,” he said in a telephone interview. “These attacks are clearly meant to sabotage the country.”

Mohamed Hussein and Suadad N. al-Salhy contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Diyala Province.

botched uganda mission leads to massacre

A mission, carried out by the Ugandan military, was intended to “crush” the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, which had been holed up in a village in neighboring Congo. But the offensive failed and the LRA fanned out, committing massacres that killed up to 900 civilians. Critics said the U.S. should have known the operation would have ended in massacres. American officials told the paper the U.S. had 17 military officers advising the Ugandans and equipping them with “satellite phones, intelligence and $1 million in fuel.” The assistance was approved personally by President Bush.

U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels

Vanessa Vick for The New York Times

recoveringindungucongo_xlarge1

Bertrand Bangbe, recovering in Dungu, Congo, was attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army. V.Vick

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN and ERIC SCHMITT
February 6, 2009

DUNGU, Congo — The American military helped plan and pay for a recent attack on a notorious Ugandan rebel group, but the offensive went awry, scattering fighters who carried out a wave of massacres as they fled, killing as many as 900 civilians.

dungucongo

The operation was led by Uganda and aimed to crush the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal rebel group that had been hiding out in a Congolese national park, rebuffing efforts to sign a peace treaty. But the rebel leaders escaped, breaking their fighters into small groups that continue to ransack town after town in northeastern Congo, hacking, burning, shooting and clubbing to death anyone in their way.

The United States has been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism for several years, but its role in the operation has not been widely known. It is the first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda, according to senior American military officials. They described a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the Pentagon’s new Africa Command working closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and $1 million in fuel.

No American forces ever got involved in the ground fighting in this isolated, rugged corner of Congo, but human rights advocates and villagers here complain that the Ugandans and the Congolese troops who carried out the operation did little or nothing to protect nearby villages, despite a history of rebel reprisals against civilians.

The troops did not seal off the rebels’ escape routes or deploy soldiers to many of the nearby towns where the rebels slaughtered people in churches and even tried to twist off toddlers’ heads.

“The operation was poorly planned and poorly executed,” said Julia Spiegel, a Uganda-based researcher for the Enough Project, which campaigns against genocide. The massacres were “the L.R.A.’s standard operating procedure,” she said. “And the regional governments knew this.”

American officials conceded that the operation did not go as well as intended, and that villagers had been left exposed.

“We provided insights and alternatives for them to consider, but their choices were their choices,” said one American military official who was briefed on the operation, referring to the African forces on the ground. “In the end, it was not our operation.”

Maj. Felix Kulayigye, a Ugandan military spokesman, declined to discuss the American involvement and simply said, “There was no way to prevent these massacres.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army is now on the loose, moving from village to village, seemingly unhindered, leaving a wake of scorched huts and crushed skulls. Witnesses say the fighters have kidnapped hundreds of children and marched them off into the bush, the latest conscripts in their slave army.

In Dungu, a 10-year-old girl lay comatose on a metal hospital cot, her face glazed with sweat, her pulse hammering in her neck. She had been sexually assaulted in a nearby village and shot in both legs, bullet through bone.

“The people who did this,” said her nurse, Rosa Apamato, “are demons.”

This used to be a tranquil, bountiful spot where villagers grew corn, beans and peanuts, more or less untouched by the violence that has plagued Congo’s east. But thousands have recently fled, and the town is now crawling with soldiers, aid workers and United Nations personnel, the movable cast that marks the advent of a serious problem.

The villagers who remain are terrified and confused. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not a Congolese movement. It is from Uganda. But once again, it seems that foreign armies are settling their scores in Congo, and the Congolese are paying the price. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Congo became the battlefield for more than a dozen armies and rebel groups from neighboring African countries, and several million Congolese died.

Even now, Rwandan troops are battling militants hundreds of miles south of here. Congo invited the Rwandans in to go after a different rebel group and its commander, much in the same way it allowed Ugandan soldiers to cross the border and hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“Who are these L.R.A.?” asked Bertrand Bangbe, who had been axed in the head and left for dead. “Why are they here? Why are they killing us?”

There are few answers. The Lord’s Resistance Army may have had some legitimate grievances when it started more than 20 years ago as a cultish rebellion to overthrow the Ugandan government. The fighters hailed their leader, Joseph Kony, as a prophet and a savior for the historically oppressed Acholi people. The movement even proclaimed to be fighting for the Ten Commandants.

But it soon devolved into something more sinister. The Lord’s Resistance Army killed tens of thousands of people in northern Uganda, slicing off lips and terrorizing children, before the Ugandan Army drove it out about five years ago. Mr. Kony then marched his prepubescent death squads and dozens of teenage brides to Garamba National Park, a vast reserve of elephants and swamps near the border of Uganda and Sudan.

The Ugandan government has tried coaxing Mr. Kony out. But the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted him on charges of crimes against humanity, and he has long insisted the charges be dropped. In November, as he has many times before, Mr. Kony refused to sign a peace treaty.

After that, Major Kulayigye said, “the only option left open to us was the military option.”

The Ugandan government asked the American Embassy in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, for help, and the request was sent up the chain of command in November to President Bush, who personally authorized it, a former senior Bush administration official said.

The American advisers and Ugandan officers used satellite imagery and Ugandan field intelligence reports to triangulate where they believed Mr. Kony and his fighters were hiding. The plan was for the Ugandan military to bomb his camp and then cut off his 700 or so fighters with more than 6,000 Ugandan and Congolese ground troops. On Dec. 13, the day before the attack, several American advisers traveled to a staging site near the Uganda-Congo border for a final coordination meeting, a senior American military official said.

Thick fog delayed the attack by several hours, Ugandan officials said, and they lost the element of surprise. By the time Ugandan helicopters bombed Mr. Kony’s hut, it was empty. Ugandan foot soldiers, hiking many miles through the bush, arrived several days later and recovered a few satellite phones and some guns.

The Ugandans say they have destroyed the rebels’ control center and food supplies, rescued around 100 abducted children and killed several fighters, including some commanders. But the operation has been widely criticized by human rights groups as essentially swatting a hornet’s nest.

On Dec. 25, villagers in Faradje, a town near the national park, walked out of church as 50 to 70 armed men emerged from the bush. Most villagers had no idea who they were. Some Congolese towns had been attacked before the offensive, yet the raids were not so widespread that word would have trickled back to remote places like Faradje.

The armed men spoke a strange language, probably Acholi, but there was no misunderstanding them after the first machete was swung. Whoever could run, did. Christine Ataputo, who owns the one restaurant in town, watched from the forest floor as the rebels raped, burned and butchered. She was lying on her belly when she saw that her 18-year-old daughter, Chantal, had been captured.

“They took her away on a rope,” she said.

Chantal has not been seen since, and even more than a month later, Faradje still has the whiff of char. Around 150 people were killed Christmas Day. Several other villages, some more than 100 miles away, were simultaneously attacked. In one town, after the rebels killed 80 churchgoers, they ate the villagers’ Christmas feast and then dozed among the corpses, according to Human Rights Watch, which documented the massacre.

“These guys are just moving around, doing whatever they want, killing, raping, whatever,” said Charles Gaudry, a field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, which says more than 50 villages in the area where it works have been attacked. “There’s zero protection.”

The United Nations has more than 16,000 peacekeepers in Congo, including about 250 in Dungu. But United Nations officials said they were spread too thin in other war-racked parts of eastern Congo to take on the Lord’s Resistance Army. At the time of the nearby massacres, the peacekeepers in Dungu were guarding the airfield.

Villagers across the area are now banding together in local self-defense forces, arming themselves with ancient shotguns and rubber slingshots. In the past in Congo, home-grown militias have only complicated the dynamic and led to more abuses.

Even where there are Congolese troops, there is not necessarily protection. The family of the 10-year-old girl in the hospital said she might have been shot by a Congolese soldier who missed the rebel who was assaulting her.

The other night, by the light of a flashlight, a young doctor took one look at the girl and ordered her evacuation to Goma, a city along the Congo-Rwanda border. She may lose a leg, he said. But at least in Goma there is a special hospital to treat girls who have been raped. In eastern Congo, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of them.

Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Dungu, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

ATTACK ON BAGHDAD MARKET KILLS 51

 

Published: June 18, 2008

BAGHDAD — A car bomb set to explode during the busiest time of day killed at least 51 people and wounded 75 Tuesday evening as shoppers were strolling through a Shiite neighborhood market in Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in more than three months.

The blast struck a crowded bus terminal near a market in Huriya, a northwest Baghdad district that once had a large population of Sunnis but after the American-led invasion saw horrific ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias and death squads, who killed or drove thousands of Sunnis out.

Survivors and relatives of the victims in the Tuesday blast were enraged and on edge. One man lost 11 relatives, including five female cousins. At a courtyard in front of the Kadhimiya Hospital morgue, people screamed, wept and shrieked. Some cursed the government for allowing the blast to happen while others called on God for revenge.

People fleeing the blast site who were interviewed by a New York Times reporter at a cordon set up around the scene of the attack said there had been two bombs, not the single explosion that Iraqi officials described. Iraqi forces sealed off the area and allowed in only ambulances and police vehicles. One worker at the morgue of nearby Kadhimiya Hospital said that 35 to 40 bodies had been brought to the hospital within the first two hours.

The bomber struck as Iraqi and American troops were attending a neighborhood meeting nearby, according to one Iraqi police officer interviewed at the scene. After the blasts, the police officer said, some people angrily surrounded Humvees and started throwing rocks and other objects. A rumor swept the crowd of frantic survivors that there was still one car bomb left that had yet to be detonated.

According to an official at the Interior Ministry, the casualty toll was the worst for any attack in Baghdad since early March, when a two-stage bomb blast in the Karada shopping district killed at least 54 people and wounded 123.

Riyadh Mohammed contributed reporting.

sadr city quiet

Iraqi government forces roll into the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad Saturday, May 17, 2008. Sadr City appeared to be calm Saturday after weeks of bloody clashes between the US forces and Mahdi army fighters.
(AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

 

SADR CITY CALM AFTER IRAQI TROOP MOVE

By LEE KEATH, Associated Press Writer Wed May 21, 4:31 PM ET

BAGHDAD – With not a Shiite fighter in sight, shoppers crowded through markets and cars packed the streets in Baghdad’s Sadr City on Wednesday — a positive early sign for Iraqi forces in their bid to impose control following a truce with the militia in its stronghold.

But while peace held in the sprawling slum a day after thousands of Iraqi troops rolled in, there were indications that militants were increasing their activity elsewhere. Skirmishes broke out in some nearby districts, including a clash that the U.S. military said killed 11 Shiite gunmen.

Support for anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is high among Sadr City’s 2.5 million residents, nearly half the population of Baghdad. Many see his Mahdi Army fighters as their protectors against Sunni insurgents and the distrusted American forces.

On Wednesday, however, people seemed relieved by the deployment and the calm it brought after weeks of clashes between his Mahdi Army fighters and allied U.S. and Iraqi troops on the edges of the district and in its southern sector.

Alaa Jassem, a day laborer, said the Iraqi troops were welcome — “they are our brothers, our sons, our friends” — but said the government “must be sincere in its promises and deliver aid to the city.”

The Iraqi government has said that as part of the deployment, it will direct funds for reconstruction in Sadr City, which is plagued by poor sewage systems that often overflow, drinking water shortages and poor garbage collection.

Success in Sadr City would be a major boost to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government is seeking to show it can extend its authority over parts of the country long under the control of armed groups.

Much depends on the durability of a truce reached last week between the government and the Mahdi Army. None of the black-garbed fighters was seen on the streets Wednesday, and Sadrist Movement officials say they will stick by the cease-fire. But some have already complained about the unexpected size of the deployment, saying it could provoke the fighters, who still have their weapons.

Ten thousand Iraqi soldiers and police, backed with tanks, moved into Sadr City early Tuesday in the biggest government effort yet to impose control in the bastion of the Mahdi Army.

On Wednesday, Iraqi forces sought to solidify their hold on the district. The troops assumed a high profile in the streets but appeared to be working delicately to avoid provocations.

Soldiers set up more positions and patrols on the main avenues, sometimes stopping their vehicles to establish a temporary checkpoint — but searches of passers-by were rare. One checkpoint stood near the main office the Sadrist Movement, and a tank was positioned in a nearby square.

On Gayara Street, a main avenue running the length of Sadr City, cars, motorcycles and minibuses were jammed — a stark contrast from recent weeks — and soldiers joined police in directing traffic. Some residents brought water for soldiers, and a nearby market was bustling, with sellers announcing their prices on loudspeakers.

Hussein Qassim reopened his barbershop, located on the front line of the battles, for the first time since a government crackdown on militias in the southern city of Basra in early April triggered the uprising in Sadr City. Nearby buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes, and one was nearly demolished.

“Before the cease-fire, life was impossible,” Qassim said in his shop. “But now my customers have returned like normal.”

The shop is only yards away from a concrete wall that U.S. troops have been erecting across the width of Sadr City, dividing the southern sectors held by the Americans from the bulk of the district.

Residents, while welcoming the Iraqi forces, warned them not to move with a heavy hand.

“There’s one issue the government has to be careful about, and that’s searches of houses,” said Hussein Mohammed, a 35-year-old working at a clothes store near Gayara Street.

“The searches mustn’t be random. They have to follow rules and go by the agreement with the Sadrist Movement,” he said.

The Sadrists appear to have agreed to the truce to prevent further losses in fighting and under influence from Iran, which has ties both to them and to Shiite parties in al-Maliki’s government. Under the truce, the Mahdi Army keeps its light weapons, and the government promised to avoid calling in American troops to help secure the district. No U.S. forces were involved in Tuesday’s deployment.

But if the military acts too assertively to break what has been the Mahdi Army’s unquestioned control of Sadr City, it could spark retaliation. Iraqi military officials have said the next stages of the operation will bring moves to arrest some militants and searches for heavy weapons like mortars, heavy machine guns and explosives. The Mahdi Army insists it has no heavy weapons in the neighborhood.

While Sadr City itself has seen no violence since troops moved in, clashes involving Shiite militiamen erupted in several of their strongholds nearby in eastern Baghdad early Wednesday. In most, no casualties were reported.

But the U.S. military said it killed 11 Shiite gunmen in the nearby New Baghdad area. It said four heavily armed militants were killed while traveling in a sport utility vehicle, four others were killed because they engaged in suspicious behavior, and three were killed after they were spotted planting two separate roadside bombs.

Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. troops were acting to stem “an increase in extremist activity” in the neighborhood “when everyone was focused on Sadr City.”

blackwater reminder

blackwater incident photos by abc

Blackwater
   

First Images From Blackwater Sept. 16 Incident

ABC News has obtained the first images of the controversial September 16 shooting involving Blackwater security forces, which resulted in Iraqi civilian deaths. The still images, taken at 11:50 that morning, show the car bomb explosion near a financial compound in western Baghdad that precipitated the incident.At left, this image shows a Blackwater convoy escorting a State Department official to the financial compound, 11:50 am.
(ABC)
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