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Feature: Mortar attacks fade in Iraq

A heavily armored Caiman vehicle.
by Richard Tomkins
Yathrib, Iraq (UPI) Oct 28, 2008
U.S. troops in heavily armored Caiman vehicles regularly patrol the towns and villages around Joint Base Balad, a key military installation in Salahaddin province northwest of Baghdad. Al-Qaida guerrillas mostly have been pushed out of the area by coalition forces and national insurgent groups, which, although degraded themselves, continue sporadic, low-grade mortar attacks on the facility.

The mortar attacks on the base -- inaccurate line-of-site lobs -- are ineffective, U.S. forces say, and are conducted by three-man teams: one man to hold the mortar tube, one to drop the round into the tube and a third to film the event.

"The few attacks we do see now appear mainly financially motivated żż and many don't even hit the base," according to the battalion intelligence officer.

He said video footage of the attacks is played on the Internet to garner funding for the groups involved from overseas donors.

"We know for sure it's (funding) coming from other countries. It's coming from Sweden, Jordan, Germany and Arab countries."

The Sons of Iraq, working with U.S. forces in Salahaddin province, grew out of the so-called awakening of Sunni tribes north of Baghdad that at first fought U.S. troops but later rebelled against their al-Qaida allies.

Depending on locale, the guards who watch their own neighborhoods are paid about $300 a month, checkpoint leaders about $400 and organizers about $600. They have been acknowledged by the United States and by the Iraqi government as having played a vital role in dampening violence across the country.

U.S. intelligence sources say there are two other factors in the downturn in terrorist violence in the area and indeed throughout the province. One is a solid event; the other is surmise.

Last December nationalist insurgent groups such as Jaish Islami -- also called Jaish Islamiyah -- founded by former Iraqi military personnel and Baathist Party officials -- turned their guns on foreign-led al-Qaida terrorists in Salahaddin province and drove most of them out of the cities, towns and villages to fringe areas.

Also, nationalist group leaders may be looking at upcoming provincial and national elections as a more fruitful path to power and influence.

"It seems like the cells are setting themselves up for what could be going on after the coalition leaves Iraq," the intelligence officer said. "They follow the media, much like we do, and they know there are going to be a lot of changes over the next few years, especially politically."

"So most of the things we pick up is that they're setting themselves up for long-term goals due to the disruption we've had over them, the surge -- of U.S. forces last year -- and what has gone on afterward."

Nonetheless, al-Qaida cells can't be written off. U.S. officials say the terrorist group continues to try to infiltrate the province and re-establish a stronger presence.

During a courtesy call to a widow of a Sons of Iraq leader in the village of Montessem, about a 45-minute drive from the base, a patrol from the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division was told by the woman that relatives farther north had encountered 10 al-Qaida gunmen who were believed to have come across from Diyala province.

To root out infiltrators and al-Qaida cells hiding in the countryside or in deserts to the east, west and south of the Balad area, soldiers from Balad and combat posts farther in-country -- often with Iraqi army troops -- launch targeted air assaults based on intelligence, most of it coming from local nationals.

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Barzani says Iraq-US security pact dominates his talks with Rice
Washington (AFP) Oct 28, 2008
Massud Barzani, the president of Iraq's northern Kurdish government, said his talks on Tuesday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focused on a controversial draft Iraq-US military pact.







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