Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bush spokesman on Gaza:"Let's just take this one day at a time"?!

So sayeth Bush spokesman Gordon Johndroe as Israel's devastation of Gaza continues. Perhaps he's channeling a Condi Rice moment? After the miscarriage of Olmert's 2006 devastation of Lebanon, are these the "birth pangs of a new Middle East"?

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama remains silent while any hopes he might have had of ramping up a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians shrivel in the blaze of the IDF's munitions. Obama spokespeople praise the outgoing Bush administration for sharing with them important information on the ongoing situation. That's cute. As his minions cheerlead on the sidelines, Bush acquiesces in the atrocity of Gaza, and in the process he hands off to Obama a hot war that, along with a deepening recession, guarantees that a new Democratic administration will be launched under perhaps, all things considered, the darkest shadow under which any new administration has ever begun.

Meanwhile, anger toward Israel and the US seethes across the Middle East. Thousands have taken to the streets in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has called upon Muslims worldwide to respond to the ongoing massacre of Gaza's people.

The US hopes to draw down its forces in Iraq, and hopes that the situation there will improve, but suicide bombings and attacks continue apace, and US forces can hardly feel safer as an already angry Iraqi public hears the news of what the US's greatest ally in the Middle East is doing to fellow Arabs in Gaza. Meanwhile, more troops are heading into the bubbling cauldron of Afghanistan, where a resurgent, better organized, Taliban await, their numbers and motivation undoubtedly stoked by the news from Gaza.

A reckoning approaches.

December 31, 2008

On Fourth Day of the Gaza Battle, No End in Sight

JERUSALEM — Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza for a fourth consecutive day on Tuesday as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the bombardment “the first of several stages,” suggesting that the conflict was far from resolution.

Israeli aircraft bombed a government compound, buildings linked to the Islamic University and the home of a top Hamas commander in a continued onslaught on Tuesday that left Gaza without electric power, according to residents of the beleaguered enclave.

Gaza residents said Israeli warships in increasing numbers were visible from the enclave’s Mediterranean shoreline, while Israeli tanks and troops massed on its land border. But despite the encirclement, Hamas militants remained defiant, launching 10 rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday. One hit an apartment house in the town of Sderot, injuring one person, witnesses said.

So far in the offensive, more than 350 Palestinians — about 60 of them civilians — have been killed, according to the United Nations. Four Israelis — three civilians and a soldier — have died.

Israeli says its offensive, which began Saturday, is intended to neutralize the threat posed to southern Israel by Hamas rockets. As the airstrikes continued Tuesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit told Israel Radio, “There is no room for a cease-fire.”

“The government is determined to remove the threat of fire on the south,” he said, referring to rocket attacks on southern Israel by Hamas forces. “Therefore the Israeli Army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel.”

At a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Mr. Olmert said the air attacks that began on Saturday were “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet,” according to Mr. Peres’s office.

“The government is giving the military its full backing and the room for maneuver to achieve the goal set out by the government,” Mr. Olmert said. But it remained uncertain whether Israel would follow the aerial attack with a ground offensive.

The military has created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border, with commanders saying that a ground force invasion was a distinct possibility but had not yet been decided upon.

The latest attacks came a day after Israeli jets struck Hamas’s civic institutions, including the Islamic University, the Interior Ministry and a presidential guesthouse. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Parliament on Monday that his country was waging an “all-out war with Hamas.”

Israel has defined its aims relatively narrowly — the crippling of Hamas’s ability to send rockets into Israel — but has not made clear if it means to topple the leadership of Hamas, which Israel and the United States have branded a terrorist organization.

Hamas sought to cast its fighters as martyrs in a continuing battle against Israel, the lone resisters in a Palestinian population divided between Gaza, where Hamas rules, and the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah organization.

On Monday, Hamas fired more than 70 rockets, including a long-range one into the booming city of Ashdod some 18 miles from Gaza, where it hit a bus stop, killing a woman and injuring two other people. Earlier, a rocket hit nearby Ashkelon, killing an Israeli-Arab construction worker and wounding three others. The other dead Israelis, The Associated Press reported, were a civilian in the Negev Desert and a soldier.

Thousands of Israelis huddled in shelters as the long-range rockets hit streets or open areas late in the night, the most serious display of Hamas’s arsenal since the Israeli assault began.

Residents of Gaza pulled relatives from the rubble of prominent institutions leveled by waves of Israeli F-16 attacks, as hospitals struggled to keep up with the wounded and the dead and doctors scrambled for supplies. Hamas gunmen publicly shot suspected collaborators with Israel; families huddled around battery-powered radios, desperate for news.

Despite the hostilities, around 100 trucks laden with emergency food and medical supplies donated by international bodies awaited permission to enter Gaza to deliver their cargo. At sea, an Israeli naval vessel collided with a small boat carrying Palestinian sympathizers and medical supplies, forcing it to divert to Lebanon.

In Crawford, Tex., a spokesman for President Bush renewed calls on Monday for the parties to reach a cease-fire but said Israel was justified in retaliating against Hamas’s attacks. “Let’s just take this one day at a time,” said the spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe.

Israel sent in some 40 trucks of humanitarian relief, including blood from Jordan and medicine. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to some similar aid and to allow some of the wounded through.

At Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the director, Dr. Hussein Ashour, said Monday that keeping his patients alive was an enormous challenge. He said there were some 1,500 wounded people distributed among Gaza’s nine hospitals with far too few intensive care units, equipped ambulances and other vital equipment.

Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way.

In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.

Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.

Sobhia Jomaa, a lawyer with the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights, said 115 accused collaborators were in the central prison. None had been executed by Hamas since it took office and their cases were monitored closely.

“The prison provided the sole protection to all of them,” she said. “But once it was bombed, many wanted to take revenge.”

Across the street from the hospital, a mosque where militants often took refuge has been destroyed by Israel, one of five mosques it has hit.

The Hamas television station was taken out by an Israeli missile on Monday and most local radio stations have closed out of fear of suffering the same fate.

Despite an apparent effort to limit the attacks to specific buildings, ordinary Gazans are constantly caught up in the bombing. On Saturday, when dozens of Israeli sorties were made simultaneously, a group of young people, ages 18 to 20, were hit when a missile was aimed at a group of Hamas policemen in the street. According to a statement by the United Nations’ special coordinator, Robert Serry, eight of the young people, emerging from a United Nations training center, were killed instantly and 19 were wounded. Eight of those hurt were in critical condition on Monday. One is awaiting emergency transfer to an Israeli hospital.

Mr. Serry sent Mr. Barak a letter of protest.

In the Jabalya refugee camp on Sunday, an attack on a mosque where militants were hiding also struck a nearby house, killing five girls under the age of 18, Health Ministry officials said.

Meanwhile in Israel, sirens wailed over mostly empty streets in the seaside city of Ashkelon. Storefronts were battered shut.

Families clustered inside the city’s stretches of towering white apartment blocks and single-family houses. Weary of venturing too far outside, they scurried into protected rooms when sirens sounded, listening for the sound of another rocket crashing somewhere in their city.

It is a city that is reluctantly getting used to its status as the front line. “It’s frightening, but what can we do?” asked Chen Hassan, 18, a high school senior. She woke up Monday morning, jolted by the sound of a missile hitting a public library under construction across the street.

The rocket killed the construction worker and wounded several others, Bedouins from the Negev Desert in Israel.

Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Gaza; Alan Cowell contributed from London.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

As the IDF's onslaught on Gaza's people continues . . .

The pattern for the response to Israeli overkill such as this in Gaza (which continues into a second day, as the NYT report below shows) has been established firmly over recent years, but especially under Bush. The US will exhort Israel to avoid civilian casualties but will otherwise stand aside (and even cheerlead quietly from the background). The UN General Assembly will call for a halt to violence. The UN Security Council will take no significant action because the US will veto any resolution at all critical of Israel. International outcry will mount, and eventually the Israeli government will decide, "well, OK, that's enough . . . for now" . . . and in the wake of the carnage they may even allow some aid into Gaza and proclaim their reasons just and their spirit humanitarian.

Meanwhile, the American public will note the headlines in their papers or web sites, perhaps shake their heads . . . and then turn the page.

And Mr. Obama will say nothing . . . and in the months to come, will - I suspect, and fear - do next to nothing. And when the next suicide attack is launched by some angry young Muslims either overseas or within our borders, our media commentators will query "why do they hate us?" And some among them will say, "it's because of our freedoms."


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/29/world/middleeast/29mideast.html?pagewanted=print
December 29, 2008

Israeli Attacks in Gaza Strip Continue for Second Day

GAZA — Israeli airstrikes against Hamas facilities in Gaza continued for a second day on Sunday and the death toll rose to more than 280 as Israel retaliated for rocket fire from the area with its most severe campaign against Palestinian militants in decades.

The Palestinian groups again launched barrages of rockets and mortars into Israel on Sunday, extending their reach further than ever before, and the Israeli government approved the emergency call up of thousands of army reservists in preparation for a possible ground operation.

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the army “will deepen and broaden its actions as needed” and “will continue to act in Gaza.”

Among the 30 or more targets hit Saturday night and early Sunday was the main security compound and prison in Gaza City known as the Saraya; metal workshops throughout Gaza; Hamas military posts; and the house of a chemistry professor from Gaza’s Islamic University. The Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa television station was also struck, as was a mosque that the Israeli military said was housing armed men and was being used as a terrorist operation center.

Palestinian officials said that most of the dead in Gaza were security officers for Hamas, including two senior commanders, and that at least 600 people had been wounded in the attacks.

The prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, said on Sunday that “the patience, determination and stamina” of the residents of Israelis would, in the end, determine the success of the military and diplomatic campaign against Hamas.

Two rockets fell in the vicinity of the major Israeli port city of Ashdod, almost 25 miles north of Gaza, a military spokeswoman said. Others landed in the coastal city of Ashkelon. Several Israelis were lightly wounded by shrapnel. The hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens now within rocket range have been instructed by the authorities to stay close to protected spaces and an emergency has been declared.

Israeli military officials said that the airstrikes, which began on Saturday morning, were the start of what could be days or even months of an effort to force Hamas to end its rocket barrages into southern Israel.

After the initial airstrikes, dozens of rockets were fired into southern Israel sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. One man was killed on Saturday in the town of Netivot, the first death from rocket fire since it intensified a week ago.

A number of governments and international officials, including leaders of Russia, Egypt, the European Union and the United Nations, condemned Israel’s use of force and also called on Hamas to end the rocket fire. But in strong terms, the Bush administration blamed Hamas for the violence and demanded that it stop firing rockets.

Early Sunday morning in New York, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing concern about the escalation of the conflict and calling on both parties for an immediate end to all violence. The statement came after envoys of the 15-member council met for over four hours in a closed session, Reuters reported.

A military operation had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fully collapsed a week ago, leading again to rocket attacks in large numbers against Israel and isolated Israeli operations here.

Still, there was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, which began in broad daylight as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market, and children were emerging from school.

The center of Gaza City was a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The dead included civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.

By afternoon, shops were shuttered, funerals began and mourning tents were visible on nearly every major street of this densely populated city.

The leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said in a statement that “Palestine has never witnessed an uglier massacre.” Later, in a televised speech, he vowed to fight Israel. “We say in all confidence that even if we are hung on the gallows or they make our blood flow in the streets or they tear our bodies apart, we will bow only before God and we will not abandon Palestine,” he said.

In Damascus, Syria, Hamas’s supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television that he was calling for a new Palestinian intifada against Israel, including the resumption of suicide attacks within Israel for the first time since 2005. Hamas, he said, had accepted “all the peaceful options, but without results.”

“We wanted to attack military targets while the terrorists were inside the facilities and before Hamas was able to get its rockets out that were stored in some of the targets,” said a top Israeli security official, briefing a group of reporters by telephone on condition of anonymity.

“Right now, we have to hit Hamas hard to stop the launching,” he added. “I don’t see any other way for Hamas to change its behavior. Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. It actually rules Gaza and is well supported by Iran with some of its leadership in Syria.”

Hamas had in recent weeks let it be known that it doubted Israel would engage in a major military undertaking because of its coming elections. But in some ways the elections have made it impossible for officials like Mr. Barak not to react, because the public has grown anxious and angry over the rocket fire, which while causing no recent deaths and few injuries is deeply disturbing for those living near Gaza.

Israeli officials said that anyone linked to the Hamas security structure or government was fair game because Hamas was a terrorist group that sought Israel’s destruction. But with work here increasingly scarce because of an international embargo on Hamas, young men are tempted by the steady work of the police force without necessarily fully accepting the Hamas ideology. One of the biggest tolls on Saturday was at a police cadet graduation ceremony in which 15 people were killed.

Spokesmen for Hamas officials, who have mostly gone underground, called on militants to seek revenge and fight to the last drop of blood. Several compared what was happening to the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, when Israel reacted to the capture and killing of soldiers along its northern border with air raids, followed by a ground attack. Hezbollah is widely viewed as having withstood those assaults and emerged much stronger politically.

The Arab League initially called an emergency meeting for Sunday in Cairo with all the foreign ministers from the member states, but later postponed it to Wednesday to give ministers time to respond.

Governments that dislike Hamas, like Egypt’s, Jordan’s and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are in a delicate position. They blame Hamas for having taken over Gaza by force 18 months ago in the aftermath of its election victory in the Palestinian Parliament, and they oppose its rocket fire on Israeli towns and communities.

But the sight of scores of Palestinians killed by Israeli warplanes outraged their citizens, and anti-Israel demonstrations broke out across the region.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority angrily condemned the Israeli airstrikes. Egypt, worried about possible efforts by Palestinians to enter the country, has set up machine guns along the Gaza border. But on Saturday it temporarily opened the Rafah border crossing in order to allow the wounded to be brought to Egyptian hospitals.

In the West Bank and in some Arab parts of Jerusalem and Israel, Palestinians threw stones, causing some injuries.

Hamas is officially committed to Israel’s destruction, and after it took over Gaza in 2007, it said it would not recognize Israel, honor previous Palestinian Authority commitments to it or end its violence against Israelis.

Israel, backed by the United States, Europe, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, has sought to isolate Hamas by squeezing Gaza economically, a policy that human rights groups condemn as collective punishment. Israel and Egypt, which control routes into and out of Gaza, have blocked nearly all but humanitarian aid from going in.

The result has been the near death of the Gazan economy. While enough food has gone in to avoid starvation, the level of suffering is very high and getting worse each week, especially in recent weeks as Israel closed the routes entirely for about 10 days in reaction to daily rocket fire.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Longish Epitaph for the Bush Presidency

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin today publishes a broadly ranging piece on the legacy of George W. Bush, with links to many recent essays and reports. Highly recommended as a rather longish epitaph.

Dan Froomkin - Finding the Proper Epitaph

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Architect Of Abu Ghraib

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (December 15, 2008) - The Architect Of Abu Ghraib

The blogosphere as well as the MSM are alive with commentary on the US Senate's bipartisan report about the torture conducted under US auspices over the last seven years. There can no longer be reasonable doubt as to where the responsibility lies: in the Oval Office. And recall: this is the same President George W. Bush who repeatedly insisted, for the record, that the United States (for which he also repeatedly asked God's blessing) does not engage in torture. Now Karl Rove is orchestrating a Bush victory lap, planting little info-seedlings that, he must hope, will sprout quickly and thickly enough to provide enough cover for his man George to get out of Dodge with some shred of respectability.

Sorry, "turd blossom" - any chance of that went sailing over George's head along with Muntazir al-Zaydi's size 10's.

And as Andrew Sullivan points out, in contrast to Richard Nixon's felonies, there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. If I were George or one of his honchos, I'd restrict my lifetime travel plans to the lower 48.

A fitting send-off for a failed president

With his last visit to Baghdad, Bush exits, the laughing-stock of Iraq . . . and beyond. IMHO, a fitting end for a disastrous presidency. . . and if not for the hundreds of thousands that his ill-conceived war killed, it would be a suitably comical one as well. I suspect that the reporter - Muntazer al-Zaidi - will be remembered as a hero in Iraq for decades to come.

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE4BE28Q20081215?sp=true

Iraqi shoe-throwing reporter becomes the talk of Iraq


By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in a supreme insult has suddenly become the talk of Iraq, hailed by marchers as a national hero but blasted by the government as a barbarian.

The little-known Shi'ite reporter, said to have harbored anger against Bush for the thousands of Iraqis who died after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, had previously made headlines only once, when he was briefly kidnapped by unknown gunmen in 2007.

TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi remained in detention on Monday, accused by the Iraqi government of a "barbaric act." He would be sent for trial on charges of insulting the Iraqi state, said the prime minister's media advisor, Yasin Majeed.

His employer, independent al-Baghdadiya television, demanded his release and demonstrators rallied for him in Baghdad's Sadr City, in the southern Shi'ite stronghold of Basra and in the holy city of Najaf, where some threw shoes at a U.S. convoy.

"Thanks be to God, Muntazer's act fills Iraqi hearts with pride," his brother, Udai al-Zaidi, told Reuters Television.

"I'm sure many Iraqis want to do what Muntazer did. Muntazer used to say all the orphans whose fathers were killed are because of Bush."

Zaidi shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," at Bush in a news conference he held with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a farewell visit to Baghdad on Sunday.

The journalist then flung one shoe at Bush, forcing him to duck, followed by another, which sailed over Bush's head and slammed into the wall behind him. Throwing shoes at someone is the worst possible insult in the Arab world.

Zaidi was dragged struggling and screaming from the room by security guards and could be heard shouting outside while the news conference continued after momentary mayhem.

'BARBARIC'

The government said Zaidi had carried out "a barbaric and ignominious act" that was not fitting of the media's role and demanded an apology from his television station.

Al-Baghdadiya television played endless patriotic music, with Zaidi's face plastered across the screen.

A newscaster solemnly read out a statement calling for his release, "in accordance with the democratic era and the freedom of expression that Iraqis were promised by U.S. authorities."

It said that any harsh measures taken against the reporter would be reminders of the "dictatorial era" that Washington said its forces invaded Iraq to end.

At a university in Baghdad, students appeared to abandon routine classes to talk about Zaidi and his shoe-throwing.

"It was the throw of the century. I believe Bush deserves what happened to him because he has not kept his promises to Iraqis," said Baghdad resident Abu Hussein, 48.

Parliamentary reaction was mixed, with some saying Zaidi chose the wrong venue for his protest. Others cheered.

"Al-Zaidi's shoe is the most famous shoe in the whole world," said Fawzi Akram, a Turkman lawmaker loyal to anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a few thousand Sadr supporters staged an anti-Bush march and demanded his immediate release.

Sadrists also rallied in Basra, the southern city that controls Iraq's oil exports, and in Najaf.

In Najaf, demonstrators threw shoes at a passing American convoy and called Bush "cow."

Zaidi, now in his late 20s, spent more than two days blindfolded, after armed men forced him into a car as he walked to work in November 2007. He said at the time that the kidnappers had beaten him until he lost consciousness, and used his necktie to blindfold him.

He never learned the identity of the kidnappers, who questioned him about his work but did not demand a ransom.

Colleagues of Zaidi say he resented President Bush, blaming him for the bloodshed that ravaged Iraq after the invasion. It did not appear that he had lost any close family members during the sectarian killings and insurgency, which in recent months have finally begun to wane.

(Additional reporting by Haidar Kadhim and Wissam Mohammed; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Iraq: the beginning of the end?

Gary Kamiya in today's Salon makes an excellent case for what the US owes the Iraqis in the wake of the devastation we have wrought there, but also speaks of the "beginning of the end." The piece I post/paste below suggests to me that perhaps we ought to take a longer view and borrow a trope from Winston Churchill, who said in 1940, at the end of the Battle of Britain during World War II, that it was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The US mainstream media have declared the Iraq war as all but won, Muqtada al-Sadr as in hiding and his influence waning. The "real war" will now be in Afghanistan.

But this piece provides a signal reminder that the Mahdi Army and their allies still control most of Sadr City, where the population largely support them and revere Muqtada and his family. They're not going anywhere. And as US troops continue to withdraw from Baghdad and Iraq's other cities, the impoverished urban Shiites whom Muqtada represents will likely reassert themselves against the Maliki government, whose ramped-up armed forces will be entrusted with keeping order, but without the levels of US boots-on-the-ground support they've been accustomed to. And, bear in mind, much of the rank-and-file of Maliki's army consists of members of the Badr Organization - the militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which not that long ago was fighting pitched battles with the Mahdi Army.

My point is that, despite the crowing in the media, Iraq is being held together right now with the political and military equivalent of duct tape and baling wire.

Baghdad Wall May Signal Trouble as U.S. Fights Iran Surrogates
By Daniel Williams

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- American soldiers call it “Fighting with concrete.”

Unable to stop mortar fire from hostile forces in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, the U.S. last May erected a 15-foot high wall. The concrete slabs separate the U.S.-patrolled southern section from the northern sector, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada Al- Sadr.

While the wall has solidified the cease-fire that ended a two-month battle pitting U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Mahdi Army, it has also come to represent a military stalemate. Mahdi Army members, renegade factions and units of Iraqis trained and equipped by Iran continue trying to penetrate the wall to attack U.S. troops and allies, U.S. commanders say.

“The bad guys still try to get in and create problems,” said Capt. Andrew Slack, who commands a U.S. Army company that patrols the area south of the wall.

Sadr City, where 40 percent of the capital’s 5 million people live, remains one of many pieces of unfinished business in Iraq, underscoring the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama as he seeks to redirect forces to the war in Afghanistan.

Under an agreement reached with the U.S. and approved by the Iraq parliament two weeks ago, U.S. troops, currently numbering 146,000, will pull back into bases next June. A full withdrawal from the country is scheduled no later than the end of 2011.

That may leave Sadr City as a continuing front in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran.

Maintaining Influence

“The U.S. will still be a player, but Iran will try to maintain its influence, too, including through its allies,” said Matthew Sherman, a former State Department adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry and now head of Virginia-based Sherman Consulting International, in a telephone interview.

In the past two years, violence in Iraq has declined as a variety of U.S. enemies suffered setbacks.

Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden’s global terror network, ran afoul of its erstwhile allies, Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority. Sunnis, who earlier spearheaded resistance to the U.S.-led occupation, objected to al-Qaeda’s rampant car and suicide-bomb campaign. Many Sunnis now are more allied with U.S. forces after seeking protection from Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority.

Meanwhile, anti-U.S. Shiite factions came under sustained attack by U.S. and Iraqi Army troops loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Signs of Turbulence

Yet signs of potential turbulence are everywhere.

On Nov. 15, Al-Sadr called on his Shiite followers to “resist” any effort by the U.S. to remain in Iraq. In a Nov. 3 press conference in Baghdad, Iraq’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Nasier Abadi, said Sunni insurgents were resisting a yearlong U.S. offensive in and around northern town of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. “This is the main area of military operations,” he said.

A suicide car bomber in Mosul killed eight civilians and wounded four U.S. soldiers in a Dec. 1 attack on a joint U.S.- Iraqi convoy.

Kurds, the other major Iraqi minority, are battling Sunnis and other Iraqi sectarian groups to control Kirkuk, an oil-rich northern city.

“Al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a significant threat, as do Iranian surrogates” and the Mahdi Army, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 14. “All retain the intent and capability of carrying out lethal attacks against the Iraqi people.”

Sadr City Weapons

About 80 percent of Sadr City residents live on the Mahdi Army side of the wall. U.S. troops occasionally raid the north side looking for weapons. Between Oct. 20 and Oct. 30, they found material for making roadside bombs in three warehouses. They have also made 11 arrests of Iraqis they suspected belonged to Iranian-trained units.

After the wall was built to put Mahdi Army mortars out of range of Baghdad’s Green Zone, site of al-Maliki’s residence and the U.S. Embassy, it became a barrier to militia members who had previously descended on Jamilla Market, a food wholesale and retail center, to shake down merchants for money, said Capt. Slack, 31.

American troops patrol south of the wall along with Iraqi soldiers, who also occupy posts north of the wall. The Iraqi National Police force was disbanded in Sadr City because it contained Mahdi Army infiltrators.

Army Search

Slack, who is from Cincinnati, said his forces are on the lookout for two new Mahdi Army offshoots, the Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Al-Haq, both containing Iraqis who fled to Iran during last spring’s fighting and then returned to Sadr City.

One night, Slack led a knock-and-search mission through part of Sadr City, going door-to-door in a four-block area just south of the wall.

Soldiers rousted inhabitants from bed and searched cabinets for rifles. “Open up!” soldiers called out in Arabic as they rushed into courtyards. “Hurry,” they added in English, hoping not to give the residents time to hide weapons.

The troops found 17 weapons, mostly AK-47s and old hunting rifles. A masked interpreter checked documents to see if the owners had permits. The presence of U.S. soldiers has given confidence to residents to inform on troublemakers, Slack said.

“That’s the real value of the wall. It helps people feel they can come forward with information, at least to us. They know we’re in charge here,” Slack said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Baghdad at dwilliams41@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 8, 2008 17:00 EST

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bombings continue in Iraq

Is this the shape of what the US will likely be touting as victory in Iraq? It's becoming harder to notice - the reports are increasingly back-paged - but bombings such as these continue, and are likely to do so.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/01/AR2008120100557.html?hpid=moreheadlines
Iraq: bombs kill more than 30 in Baghdad, Mosul

By HAMID AHMED
The Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008; 8:07 AM

BAGHDAD -- A series of bombs struck U.S. and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul on Monday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens more, Iraqi officials said.

The bloody attacks were a grim reminder of the dangers facing Iraqis as they try to take over their own security. The Iraqi parliament last week approved a security pact with the United States that would let the Americans stay in Iraq for three more years to help maintain stability.

At least 16 people were killed and 46 wounded in a nearly simultaneous double bombing near a police academy in eastern Baghdad.

A suicide attacker detonated his explosives vest packed with ball bearings at the entrance to the academy, then a car bomb exploded about 150 yards away, apparently aimed at those responding to the initial blast, the U.S. military said.

The blasts occurred within minutes of each other on Palestine Street, according to police and witnesses.

Bloodied police uniforms and a military boot left by victims were scattered with the crumpled metal hulk of the car bomb on the charred street in the aftermath of the bombing, according to Associated Press Television News footage.

The attacker apparently was a teenage boy whose head was taken to a local hospital, a police officer said. An AP photographer saw the head and confirmed it appeared to be a teenage boy.

Those killed included five policemen and 11 recruits, while the wounded included 11 policemen and 35 recruits, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military initially said the death toll appeared to be about 20 but later said reports indicated six people were killed and 20 wounded.

In Mosul, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives as a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy drove by in a crowded commercial area, a police officer said. The officer also declined to be identified for the same reason.

At least 15 people _ most civilians _ were killed and 30 wounded in that attack, the officer said. An official at the morgue where the bodies were taken confirmed the death toll.

The U.S. military said initial reports show eight Iraqi civilians were killed in Monday's attack. It says two U.S. soldiers and 30 Iraqis were wounded.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq.

Earlier Monday, a senior Defense Ministry official was wounded in a roadside bomb attack that killed one of his bodyguards, Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.

The blast occurred in the Sulaikh neighborhood, a mainly Sunni area in northern Baghdad.

The wounded official, Maj. Gen. Mudhir al-Mola, is in charge of affairs related to the Sunni guards known as the Sons of Iraq who have joined forces with U.S. troops against al-Qaida in Iraq, according to al-Moussawi.

The move is considered a key factor in the overall decline in Iraq violence.

The Shiite-led government assumed responsibility for the Sunnis in Baghdad this fall.

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