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The Battle For Baghdad Has Barely Begun

An Iraqi police commando walks by a burning humvee at the site of a suicide car bombing in the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk, 19 October 2006. Photo courtesy of Marwan Ibrahim and AFP. The "Sands of Eden" should have been warning enough.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Oct 19, 2006
The U.S. military for the second time in four months is adjusting its strategy in the battle for Baghdad, a U.S. general said Thursday. "We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city," said Brig. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. Baghdad neighborhoods that were believed to be secured by U.S. and Iraqi forces have seen increased violence.

"There is no question in the focus areas where we in fact conducted operations, we have seen an increase (in) ... sectarian violence in those areas," Caldwell said. "We find the insurgent elements, the extremists, are in fact punching back hard. They're trying to get back into those areas. We're constantly going back in and doing clearing operations again."

Those areas were selected for the security operation because they were the most violent in Baghdad, Caldwell said. And U.S. officials consider Baghdad the "center of gravity" in Iraq; the war cannot be won unless Baghdad is brought under control.

"We do see incidents occurring just outside the focus areas, clearly an attempt to get into them. It's something we continue to watch and work real closely," he said.

Operation Together Forward, a joint military operation with U.S forces and Iraqi soldiers and police -- about 55,000 troops among a population of 6.5 million -- started in Baghdad on June 14, focusing efforts on a handful of the most violent neighborhoods.

By July 11, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said the plan was not working and would have to be adjusted.

In late July, the Pentagon announced that the 4,000-members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade would have their year-long Iraq deployment extended by four months so they could be go to Baghdad to reinforce the approximately 8,000 American combat troops operating there.

According to Caldwell, the newly revised strategy -- extra troops, new focus neighborhoods, and a multi-month plan to bring the city under control -- is not yielding results either.

"It's clear that the conditions under which we started are probably not the same today. And so it does require some modifications of the plan. And there is an intense amount of ongoing discussion and briefings that are being held at both the government of Iraq level and at our level, to specifically address these facets," Caldwell said at a Baghdad press conference Thursday.

Caldwell said he believes the insurgents are trying to discredit the Iraqi government by intentionally targeting areas that were already secured in Operation Together Forward.

"We realize that every time we stand up here and brief and talk about it, it's just as much announcing to somebody, here's the area where we're operating. If you want to go back and try to discredit this government, go strike those areas. So that's why we think there's a lot of that occurring," Caldwell said.

Civilian casualties have remaind steady for the last three months, albeit at distressingly high levels - at least 1,500 a month, most believed at the hands of sectarian executioners. The number of attacks on coalition and Iraqi security forces are climbing, however.

Caldwell said the U.S. military is analyzing its casualties -- 73 in Iraq alone this month, most of them in Baghdad -- to determine who the perpetrators are. Baghdad is a dangerous brew of at least 23 Shi'ite militias, Sunni insurgents, al-Qaida in Iraq, different tribes and violent criminals.

He believes most U.S. casualties have occurred in Sunni areas.

Baghdad is not the only city seeing an increase in violence. In Mosul Thursday, there were six suicide car bombs, three of them targeting Iraqi police stations. Two targeted two different Stryker patrols in the city. There were also four to six indirect fire strikes -- mortars or rockets -- against Iraqi police near the targeted stations. The governor of Ninevah province has declared a curfew and has shut down all checkpoints and bridges into and out of the city.

About 40 miles north of Baghdad in Balad there was a spasm of sectarian violence this week, with as many as 95 dead. Caldwell said the U.S. military believes the catalyst for the violence was the Oct. 12 killing of an al-Qaida in Iraq leader by Iraqi army forces. That led to 14 Shiites being killed in the same area a few hours later. In apparent retribution, 26 Sunnis were killed the following day.

Caldwell said provincial, town and some tribal leaders came together on Oct. 15 to discuss how to stop the sectarian violence. Caldwell said that on Wednesday, there was a follow up meeting of "hundreds of people" came together to denounce the violence and discuss how to prevent it from taking hold in Balad.

Caldwell also confirmed that U.S. forces set free, at the request of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a sheik believed to be involved in death squad activities associated with the militia of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr. The sheik was captured during an early morning raid on Oct. 17 but was set free the next day after signing an agreement not to be involved in future acts of violence or suspicious activity, Caldwell said.

Sadr is one of the most powerful and troublesome of the Shiite leaders in the U.S. view, responsible for two violent uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004 and believed to be behind the murder of a rival cleric in 2003.

Maliki is the Shiite prime minister of Iraq. He is ostensibly trying to broker a peace between the Shiite factions vying for power in Iraq to shore up his own government, stop their militias' attacks on Sunnis, and also engage the Sunni population politically to hasten the end of the war.

related commentatory
Military Matters: Cynicism on Iraq
by William S. Lind - UPI Military Commentator Washington (UPI) Oct 19 - At least 70 American troops have been killed in Iraq this month. Hundreds have been wounded. The "battle for Baghdad" is going nowhere. A Marine friend just back from Ramadi said to me, "It didn't get any better while I was there, and it's not going to get better." Virtually everyone in Washington, except the people in the White House, knows that is true for all of Iraq.

Actually, I think the White House knows it too. Why then does it insist on "staying the course" at a casualty rate of more than one thousand Americans per month? The answer is breathtaking in its cynicism: so the retreat from Iraq happens on the next President's watch. That is why we still fight.

Yep, it's now all about President George W. Bush. Anyone who thinks that is too low, too mean, too despicable even for this bunch does not understand the meaning of the adjective "Rovian." Would they let thousands more young Americans get killed or wounded just so the president does not have to face the consequences of his own folly? In a heartbeat.

Not that it's going to help. When history finally lifts it leg on the Bush administration, it will wash all such tricks away, leaving only the hubris and the incompetence. Jeffrey Hart, who with Russell Kirk gone is probably the top intellectual in the conservative movement, has already written that George W. Bush is the worst president America ever had. I think the honor still belongs to Woodrow Wilson, but if Bush attacks Iran, he may yet earn the prize. That third and final act in the Bush tragicomedy is waiting in the wings.

A post-election Democratic House of Representatives, Senate or both might in theory say no to another war. But if the Bush administration's cynicism is boundless, the Democrats' intellectual vacuity and moral cowardice are equally so. You can't beat something with nothing, but Democrats have put forward nothing in the way of an alternative to Bush's defense and foreign policies. On Iran, the question is whether they will be more scared of the Republicans or of the Israeli lobby. Either way, they will hide under the bed, just as they have hidden under the bed on the war in Iraq.

It appears at the moment that a congressional demand for withdrawal from Iraq is more likely if the Republicans keep the Senate and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., remains chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee than if the Democrats take over.

There is a great deal of material available to the Democrats to offer an alternative, much of it the product of the Military Reform Movement of the 1970s and 80s. Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator from Colorado, can tell them all about it. There is even a somewhat graceful way out of Iraq, if the Dems will ask themselves my favorite foreign policy question, WWBD -- What Would Bismarck Do? He would transfer sufficient Swiss francs to interested parties so that the current government of Iraq asks us to leave. They, not we, would then hold the world's ugliest baby, even though it was America's indiscretion that gave the bastard birth.

But donkeys will think when pigs fly. A Democratic Congress will be as stupid, cowardly and corrupt as its Republican predecessor; in reality, both parties are one party, the party of successful career politicians. The White House will continue a lost war in Iraq, solely to dump the mess in the next president's lap. America or Israel will attack Iran, pulling what's left of the temple down on our heads. The U.S. Congress will do nothing to stop either war.

By 2008, I may not be the only monarchist in America.

(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.)

Source: United Press International

Related Links
Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century

The Widening War In Iraq
Washington (UPI) Oct 18, 2006
The worrying trends we have tracked over the past six weeks in Iraq are now obvious to all: the war there is out of control.







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