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Feature: U.S. cites attacks despite truce

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by Richard Tomkins
Baghdad (UPI) May 13, 2008
A new cease-fire has been declared between the Iraqi government and Shiite gunmen of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, but U.S. and Iraqi forces say their troops are still coming under attack in Sadr City.

U.S. soldiers killed three extremist gunmen in clashes late Sunday and early Monday, U.S. authorities said Monday. Most of the fighting was along the 3-mile barrier American soldiers are building along al-Quds Street, which separates the southern Jamilla and Tharwa neighborhoods of Sadr City from northern sectors.

"It doesn't look like a cease-fire to me," said Maj. Kyle Ferger, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. "Just last night there were more than a dozen (incidents) along the wall."

The wall, made of 12-foot-high concrete slabs, was begun in mid-April to block Shiite extremists from infiltrating the two neighborhoods using cross streets along al-Quds to fire rockets at the International Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government and U.S. military and diplomatic headquarters. Citizens can still travel between the southern and northern sections of Sadr City, but would have to use three main roads where Iraqi soldiers search vehicles for weapons and munitions.

Despite weeks of daily attacks by members of Sadr's Mehdi Army and so-called special groups -- rogue militia influenced by Iran -- the wall was 75 percent complete as of Monday and would be finished before the end of the week, Ferger said.

Sadr City, located in the northeastern part of Baghdad, is the stronghold of Sadr, who is a political rival of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last year he declared a cease-fire with the government, helping to bring new security to the capital, but rescinded it in late March when the Iraqi army took on Shiite gunmen, including Sadr's forces, in the southern port city of Basra amid spiraling lawlessness.

Fighting spread to Sadr City, from where 107mm and 120mm rockets were launched almost daily on the International Zone. Shiite gunmen in mid-April also overran a number of Iraqi army posts in the southern portion of the district. Those posts were retaken with U.S. help after some Iraqi army units deserted.

On Saturday the government announced it had reached an agreement with representatives of Sadr to end the fighting. The militia agreed to surrender its medium and heavy weapons, and the government agreed to open all roads into Sadr City, which the United Nations said is suffering from shortages of food and water.

Iraqi troops would reportedly be allowed to enter the district to search for criminals. Additional details of the cease-fire are reportedly still being worked out in negotiations between the government and representatives of Sadr, who is believed to be living in Iran.

"It (the new cease-fire) is a lie," Iraqi Army Col. Yehea Resol Abdala said Monday in reference to militants adhering to it. "Just an hour ago they attacked my soldiers.

"We know these people. We've fought them before. If they don't surrender their weapons, they must be squashed."

Ironically, in the same hour in which word Saturday was first received of the cease-fire, 11 improvised explosive devices could be heard from the colonel's Jamilla neighborhood office.

Abdala is commander of the Iraqi army's 3rd Battalion, 42nd Brigade, 11th Division, which operates in the Jamilla area. His unit stood firm and fought off Mehdi and special group gunmen when they launched concerted, coordinated attacks on government positions April 19.

Like his troops, he is a Shiite from Sadr City and said government forces must be in the city or there will be no peace. "The special groups don't take their orders from Sadr," he said. "They take their orders from Iran."

U.S. and Iraqi authorities suspect Iran of having trained some special group elements. Iran is also accused of providing extremists with explosively formed penetrator bombs, which pierce armored vehicles.

Iraqi troops around Sadr City conduct joint operations with U.S. troops and also independently. Working with the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Brigade is a special 14-man U.S. Military Transition Team that acts as a liaison and helps with overcoming the army's communications, planning and logistics problems.

Abdala's battalion, for example, only has four night-vision goggles, something every U.S. soldier in the Sadr City area has.

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