Category Archives: sunnis

america’s role in iraq

The U.S.’s sledgehammer worldview is destroying countless lives and future generations.

The front page of The New York Times on June 26 featured a photo of women mourning a murdered Iraqi.

He is one of the innumerable victims of the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) campaign in which the Iraqi army, armed and trained by the U.S. for many years, quickly melted away, abandoning much of Iraq to a few thousand militants, hardly a new experience in imperial history.

Right above the picture is the newspaper’s famous motto: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

There is a crucial omission. The front page should display the words of the Nuremberg judgment of prominent Nazis – words that must be repeated until they penetrate general consciousness: Aggression is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

And alongside these words should be the admonition of the chief prosecutor for the United States, Robert Jackson: “The record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

The U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq was a textbook example of aggression. Apologists invoke noble intentions, which would be irrelevant even if the pleas were sustainable.

For the World War II tribunals, it mattered not a jot that Japanese imperialists were intent on bringing an “earthly paradise” to the Chinese they were slaughtering, or that Hitler sent troops into Poland in 1939 in self-defense against the “wild terror” of the Poles. The same holds when we sip from the poisoned chalice.

Those at the wrong end of the club have few illusions. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of a Pan-Arab website, observes that “the main factor responsible for the current chaos [in Iraq] is the U.S./Western occupation and the Arab backing for it. Any other claim is misleading and aims to divert attention [away] from this truth.”

In a recent interview with Moyers & Company, Iraq specialist Raed Jarrar outlines what we in the West should know. Like many Iraqis, he is half-Shiite, half-Sunni, and in preinvasion Iraq he barely knew the religious identities of his relatives because “sect wasn’t really a part of the national consciousness.”

Jarrar reminds us that “this sectarian strife that is destroying the country … clearly began with the U.S. invasion and occupation.”

The aggressors destroyed “Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities,” beginning immediately when the U.S. imposed a Governing Council based on sectarian identity, a novelty for Iraq.

By now, Shiites and Sunnis are the bitterest enemies, thanks to the sledgehammer wielded by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (respectively the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and vice president during the George W. Bush administration) and others like them who understand nothing beyond violence and terror and have helped to create conflicts that are now tearing the region to shreds.

Other headlines report the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Journalist Anand Gopal explains the reasons in his remarkable book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes.

In 2001-02, when the U.S. sledgehammer struck Afghanistan, the al-Qaida outsiders there soon disappeared and the Taliban melted away, many choosing in traditional style to accommodate to the latest conquerors.

But Washington was desperate to find terrorists to crush. The strongmen they imposed as rulers quickly discovered that they could exploit Washington’s blind ignorance and attack their enemies, including those eagerly collaborating with the American invaders.

Soon the country was ruled by ruthless warlords, while many former Taliban who sought to join the new order recreated the insurgency.

The sledgehammer was later picked up by President Obama as he “led from behind” in smashing Libya.

In March 2011, amid an Arab Spring uprising against Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973, calling for “a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.”

The imperial triumvirate – France, England, the U.S. – instantly chose to violate the Resolution, becoming the air force of the rebels and sharply enhancing violence.

Their campaign culminated in the assault on Gadhafi’s refuge in Sirte, which they left “utterly ravaged,” “reminiscent of the grimmest scenes from Grozny, towards the end of Russia’s bloody Chechen war,” according to eyewitness reports in the British press. At a bloody cost, the triumvirate accomplished its goal of regime change in violation of pious pronouncements to the contrary.

The African Union strongly opposed the triumvirate assault. As reported by Africa specialist Alex de Waal in the British journal International Affairs, the AU established a “road map” calling for cease-fire, humanitarian assistance, protection of African migrants (who were largely slaughtered or expelled) and other foreign nationals, and political reforms to eliminate “the causes of the current crisis,” with further steps to establish “an inclusive, consensual interim government, leading to democratic elections.”

The AU framework was accepted in principle by Gadhafi but dismissed by the triumvirate, who “were uninterested in real negotiations,” de Waal observes.

The outcome is that Libya is now torn by warring militias, while jihadi terror has been unleashed in much of Africa along with a flood of weapons, reaching also to Syria.

There is plenty of evidence of the consequences of resort to the sledgehammer. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly the Belgian Congo, a huge country rich in resources – and one of the worst contemporary horror stories. It had a chance for successful development after independence in 1960, under the leadership of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

But the West would have none of that. CIA head Allen Dulles determined that Lumumba’s “removal must be an urgent and prime objective” of covert action, not least because U.S. investments might have been endangered by what internal documents refer to as “radical nationalists.”

Under the supervision of Belgian officers, Lumumba was murdered, realizing President Eisenhower’s wish that he “would fall into a river full of crocodiles.” Congo was handed over to the U.S. favorite, the murderous and corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and on to today’s wreckage of Africa’s hopes.

Closer to home it is harder to ignore the consequences of U.S. state terror. There is now great concern about the flood of children fleeing to the U.S. from Central America.

The Washington Post reports that the surge is “mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras” – but not Nicaragua. Why? Could it be that when Washington’s sledgehammer was battering the region in the 1980s, Nicaragua was the one country that had an army to defend the population from U.S.-run terrorists, while in the other three countries the terrorists devastating the countries were the armies equipped and trained by Washington?

Obama has proposed a humanitarian response to the tragic influx: more efficient deportation. Do alternatives come to mind?

It is unfair to omit exercises of “soft power” and the role of the private sector. A good example is Chevron’s decision to abandon its widely touted renewable energy programs, because fossil fuels are far more profitable.

Exxon Mobil in turn announced “that its laserlike focus on fossil fuels is a sound strategy, regardless of climate change,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “because the world needs vastly more energy and the likelihood of significant carbon reductions is ‘highly unlikely.'”

It is therefore a mistake to remind readers daily of the Nuremberg judgment. Aggression is no longer the “supreme international crime.” It cannot compare with destruction of the lives of future generations to ensure bigger bonuses tomorrow.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

mosul abandoned by coalition forces

Mosul and the Fight for Iraq

Morning Edition, March 17, 2008 · Five years after the United States attacked Iraq, perhaps no place is more emblematic of the war than the northern city of Mosul. The fighting in Iraq’s third-largest city seems to just go on and on. The U.S. military takes part of the city only to lose it again. Insurgents move out, then they come back in.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, Gen. David Petraeus said, “Every city that we liberated, we were applauded and given thumbs-up everywhere we went. It’s temporary if we don’t get it right. Our determination is to do the very best we can to get it right.”

A year later, there were signs that things weren’t right in Mosul.

“In May [2003], the city was considered safe enough for U.S. administrator Paul Bremer to stroll those streets without a flak jacket,” Steve Inskeep reported in April 2004. “This week, Paul Bremer returned for another visit, but instead of going into town, he remained inside the U.S. military base here. In the last few weeks, half a dozen foreigners have been assassinated in Mosul.”

By the fall 2004, things had gotten much worse. Philip Reeves reported about going on patrol with U.S. forces in Mosul:

“The soldiers clamber out into the bright, cold morning. There’s hardly anyone around. The shutters are up. The surrounding buildings bear the scars of battle. The bodies of three men, shot through the back of the head, lie by the road. They seem to have been deliberately placed there so the public can see them.”

The military generally retreated from Mosul and other cities into mega-bases. Soldiers had little ineraction with the Iraqi population, other than to conduct raids to capture insurgents. There was virtually no reconstruction and there weren’t enough soldiers to provide real security.

And during elections in 2005, the Mosul police force vanished. Much of the city’s Sunni population didn’t vote and ended up with no representation in the local council, which remains a major issue today.

After things calmed a bit in Mosul that year, the U.S. military’s focus moved elsewhere. Mosul ended up sliding back into a war of attrition.

The 2006 bombing of the golden dome of a sacred Shiite mosque in Samarra unleashed a civil war that was concentrated in Baghdad. The U.S. military’s resources and focus shifted to the Iraqi capital.

Last year, the U.S. military implemented its “surge,” a plan to boost U.S. troop levels in order to put a lid on the violence. More troops, stationed in smaller bases, patrolled neighborhoods. But as troop levels increased in Baghdad, insurgent groups were squeezed out of the capital and moved to Mosul.

Today, insurgents are concentrated in Mosul and they are fighting for that city. The Sunni population, which didn’t vote in the 2005 election, feels disenfranchised and there’s a sense of despair.

 Iraqi firefighters search for wounded people amid rubble at the site of a deadly explosion in Mosul.

Mujahed Mohammed

Iraqi firefighters search for wounded people amid rubble at the site of a deadly explosion in Mosul, Jan. 24, 2008. AFP/Getty Images