Monday, March 31, 2008

I received this e-mail:

Good Day

I am [redacted] from South Africa

I am searching for Sunni websites and found your blog. Could you BIG PLEASE send me the adress of this Iraqi Rabita's website?

We need it as we are searching for four South Africans who went missing in Iraq and are desperate


Not really sure what to make of it, I did write back asking for more info, but if anyone out there recognizes that name drop a link into the comments.

Not sure, but I might have found it myself

Iraqi Rabita

(update 2)
That link is dead but then I found this:

Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami also calls itself the Muslim World League. Rabita's former directors include the co-founder of al-Qaeda - Wael Julaidan - as well as Mr. Naseef.
Trail of Terror

Bin Laden's CFO: Terrorist or "Saudi Businessman?"

Mojo's World

"The day before Muqtada al-Sadr lifted the Mahdi Army's freeze of attacks on Coalition Forces, things were obnoxiously normal in Anu al-Verona. Kids playing in the dirt, women shopping in the market, old men casting geriatric judgements from front porches, teenagers leering for the sake of leering - you know, the works. It all seems so distant now. Multiple 24-hour plus missions tend to have that effect on the memory.

As usual, Mojo was found near the combat outpost, on the front steps of the governance center. As the mayor’s son, he has the unofficial responsibility of hawking as much crap obtained by less than legal means as possible our way. Phone cards, cell phones, movies, iPods, and various forms of porn far more creative than necessary are always readily available through him – and that’s what he’s willing to try and sell in front of the LT. I’ve been informed there are even less refined aspects of the Mojo inventory. This isn’t exactly your friendly suburban neighborhood lemonade stand."

How hard would it be to add a school to the fob for all the little mojos?

Fuck the Militia

""You guys have to go check out National Police check points that have been over run." "Wow that's gay." "After that we are linking up with 1st PLT to raid a Mosque in [Nasty Part of Town]." "Okay that's not so gay."
The main route we had been working on recently was empty and it was the middle of the day. Smoke from tire fires was in the air. Lately Sadr's militia went buckwhile coming out to fight. Fighting from Sadr City spilled east into Bravo Company's sector. Alpha, and Bravo and some elements from an Armored unit were in the midst of a heated battle in Bravo's sector uprooting militia men from the check points. We drove by a check point tower we had built and the side of it had been hit by an RPG. We drove past numerous check points that were abandoned. Reports of a certain checkpoint that had been taken over by JAM came across the net. We drove to the checkpoint and it was manned by a bunch of National Policeman. Maybe they were JAM but they were in uniform so it wasn't cool if we smoked them."
The Angry American

H/T Nixon for the great find of a new milblogger.

And a Big Fuck You to American Media

"The American media's use of freedom of speech has long been an ideal protected under our constitution, which we in the military are sworn to defend. But what about when the media actively engages in undermining the security of US forces abroad? I think that entitles me to flip the bird to the media outlets in question. And I'm not talking about jackass Mahdi Army lovers over at Kos (this draft-dodging asshole accused my buddy Brandon Friedman of being a neo-con, the last guy on earth I would label such), but rather large-time rags like CNN. They published the story about security precautions being taken in the Green Zone following numerous rocket attacks. There's the news, and then there's sensationalism and relishing of violence. Do they not understand that the reason the enemy does this is because it gets such huge press? Are they so blinded by their hatred of BushCheneyHalliburtonCo that they don't even understand they are getting their fellow countrymen killed? I'm not saying that everything should read like military propaganda, but please don't enable the enemy if you are an American media outlet. I have also been flabbergasted by the lack of coverage on the militia thugs getting squashed for launching rockets (smart move on their part to go with the ceasefire). There's some MNF-I press releases here, here, and here. Also, for a really good story, check out Angry American who was out on the streets of Baghdad (praise to those that have more courage than I). When I get back to the states, I want to buy this man a beer...I also would like to leave a burning bag of dogshit at the front door of CNN's corporate headquarters in Atlanta."

Right here, CNN...Right Here

LT Nixon Rants

A Farewell to Two Heroes

"A Farewell to Two Heroes

I wish to offer my remembrance, thanks, and admiration for two fellow troops who are no longer with us. They gave all in their service of country and I feel that I am forever in their debt. Though I can never repay them, I can remember them and try to honor them for giving of their youth because they believed that our country was worth it.
Made a Difference

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm in mosul

"my vacation was over on wednesday and i left baghdad at that day. the trip wasn't tiring and lack the road divertion or offroad driving but many checkpoints were along the way. we faced 2 or 3 american troops but the delay was few minutes , we were lucky.
i came alone to mosul and it's too dangerous to live in my home because when the national guards or the american soldiers find a young man living alone he'll be considered as a terrorist and will be detained.
when i reached to mosul i phoned my father and he told me to keep with my friends at the hospital residency but i went home at first, had some rest and met some neighbours who were afraid and hesitated to talk about the situation and they didnt give me a clear answer"

Video Q&A: Answers From Iraqis, Part 2

BAGHDAD — We’ve been looking back to the start of the war in Iraq five years ago. But what about the next five years? In what ways do Iraqis think their lives will be different in 2013?

That was one of the questions submitted by readers for our Q&A with the Iraqis living in Baghdad. Mohammed al-Obeidi, an Iraqi staff member, and I posed it to Iraqis we interviewed recently. These interviews were conducted outside the Green Zone, in some of Baghdad’s mixed neighborhoods, where we hoped to find people from the widest range of backgrounds.
Baghdad Bureau

They are asking for questions and I have one.

In the videos many Iraqis long for the end of the "occupation" but it would seem to me that they all had different definitions for the word "occupation". So I would like to submit for your consideration that next time an Iraqi uses the word "Occupation" that you ask them to define what they mean, and to what degree would they like to see the occupation end. Things like do they consider any troops on Iraqi soil and occupation, or if only they are conducting "combat maneuvers", or "patrols", to get a better idea of what people mean when they say "the Occupation"


Hi everyone! It`s JP, webmaster of As many of you know, I`m a member of Bad Voodoo Platoon and I’m currently deployed in support of OIF. Over the last year, several of us includi ng fellow military blogger Toby Nunn, have been videotaping our experience. Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) has made a film for FRONTLINE called Bad Voodoo`s War that will be airing on April 1st. The details are below:


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

9 P.M. (check local listings)

In June 2007, as the American military surge reached its peak, a band of National Guard infantrymen who call themselves "The Bad Voodoo Platoon" was deployed to Iraq. To capture a vivid, first-person account of the new realities of war in Iraq for FRONTLINE and ITVS, director Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) created a "virtual embed" with the platoon, supplying camer as to the soldiers so they could record and tell the story of their war. The film intimately tracks the veteran soldiers of "Bad Voodoo" through the daily grind of their perilous mission, dodging deadly IEDs, grappling with the political complexities of dealing with Iraqi security forces, and battling their fatigue and their fears.

Watch a preview now at:

Visit the PBS pressroom for press release

Online starting April 1.

Operation Fix Muqty II

"As with the first Operation Fix Muqty post, I'm attempting to group Iraqi bloggers by their "take" on the GoI's battle with JAM. An important backdrop is PM Maliki saying that the Mahdi Army is worse than AQ, and Ayatollah Maliki issuing a fatwa against the PM."

Al-Sadr Pulls Fighters Off Iraq Streets

BAGHDAD (AP) - Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Sunday that he was pulling his fighters off the streets nationwide and called on the government to stop raids against his followers and free them from prison.

The Iraqi government quickly welcomed al-Sadr's apparent move to resolve a widening conflict with his movement, sparked Tuesday by operations against his backers in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

Al-Sadr's nine-point statement was issued by his headquarters in the holy city of Najaf and broadcast through loudspeakers on Shiite mosques. It said the first point was: "taking gunmen off the streets in Basra and elsewhere."

He also demanded that the Iraqi government stop "haphazard raids" and release security detainees who haven't been charged, two issues cited by his movement as reasons for fighting the government.

Followers handed out sweets in Baghdad's main Mahdi Army militia stronghold of Sadr City.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called the statement "positive and responsible." But he also warned in a telephone interview broadcast on Iraqi state TV. that security forces would continue to target those who don't follow the order.

"We expect a wide response to this call," he said. "After this announcement, anybody who targets the government and its institutions will be regarded ... as outlaws."

Scattered firing could be heard in central Baghdad hours after al-Sadr's statement was released, and rockets or mortars were fired toward the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

At least seven Iraqis were killed and 21 wounded when two rounds apparently fell short, striking houses in the commercial district of Karradah, police said.

A U.S. public address system in the Green Zone warned people to "duck and cover" and to stay away from windows.

Iraqi security forces have been facing fierce resistance to their crackdown on militia violence in the southern city of Basra.

Dozens of Shiite gunmen stormed a state TV facility in central Basra before al-Sadr's declaration Sunday, forcing Iraqi troops guarding the building to flee and setting armored vehicles on fire.

One of al-Maliki's top security officials was killed in a mortar attack against the palace that houses the military operations center, officials said.

The prime minister's Dawa party issued a statement of condolences identifying the slain official as Salim Qassim, known by his nickname Abu Laith al-Kadhimi.

The strength of the resistance to the week-old offensive has taken the U.S.-backed government by surprise, forcing it to come up with a new tactical plan targeting several Mahdi Army strongholds, a government official said.

The official, who was in Basra but spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also had brought in reinforcements and appealed to local tribal leaders to help secure the area.

The prime minister, himself a Shiite, has called the fight "a decisive and final battle" and vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including the Mahdi Army that is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

But al-Maliki also acknowledged Saturday that he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash the offensive would provoke in Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power.

Hundreds of militants, soldiers and civilians have been killed as fighting spread to Baghdad neighborhoods and other southern cities.

Several clashes have involved U.S. forces and the U.S. military launched airstrikes in Basra. The military said 16 enemy fighters were killed in when an AC-130 gunship strafed heavily armed militants attacking Iraqi troops during clashes on Saturday.

U.S. and Iraqi troops also repelled an attack against American special forces Saturday in Suwayrah, a Shiite militia stronghold 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing 13 enemy fighters, the military said in a statement.

Iraqi police said three militants were killed and 21 detained when clashes resumed there on Sunday.

In other violence, a suicide car bomber killed five U.S.-backed Sunni fighters and wounded eight other people near the oil hub of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

Gunmen also killed five policemen in Duluiyah, a Sunni-dominated area 45 miles north of Baghdad.

The U.S. military said separately that American and Iraqi troops unearthed 14 badly decomposed bodies in a mass grave on Saturday in Muqdadiyah, northeast of Baghdad. It was the second such find since Thursday, when 37 bodies were found.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Cold Spring

"The pale curtains of the desert sun loom softly every dawn. Spring has arrived, bringing with it a heat eager to oppress.

It’s the same everywhere we go in this (insert writer's misleading and skewed adjective here) country. Same confused mixture of anger, sadness, and hope. Same matching black pools of the wild browbeaten, same bottled mistrust that could quench even this nation’s thirst. Caged, hellbent on survival if only to see you gone from their sight so they can focus this sensual wrath on something new. The only difference over here is that the poor aren’t afraid to openly cast it. Not jaded, like the homeless back home. Too vacant for that, and more hostile in intent. More like a junkie without the hallucinating hope for another fix.

When there’s nothing to lose, it’s easy to be honest.

The eyes tell all."
I think I saw this guy on TV. C-SPAN

Behind the Bloodshed in Basra

"One of the most notable things about the fierce and bloody confrontation taking place the government and Sadr’s militia is the spin on the operation by the commanders and the government; that it is a crackdown on outlaws with emphasis that the operation targets no particular movement or political line.
This generic label, includes the so-called rogue Sadrists. Sadr announced only weeks ago that whoever doesn’t uphold the ceasefire would no longer be considered a member of the movement.

Now, Sadr is watching those rogue elements being hit hard by the government forces. Instead of disavowing those who blatantly disobeyed his ceasefire orders we see him call for negotiations and condemning the government, thus once more revealing his real face as a defender of his own version of terrorism."

IRAQ: Not quite the surrender Maliki had in mind

It appears that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ultimatum to Shiite Muslim militiamen to surrender to the Iraqi government might not be working precisely as he had intended.

When nobody had turned up by Friday, Maliki gave members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia 10 more days to turn in their weapons and renounce violence.

Instead, about 40 members of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and National Police offered to surrender their AK-47s and other weapons this morning to Sadr's representatives in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.

One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims.

"We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.

Sadr's representatives refused to take the men's weapons, saying they belong to the government. Instead, the representatives offered the men olive branches and copies of the Koran.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, said today that lots of militiamen had also handed over weapons since the deadline was extended but provided no specifics.

More than 150 people have been killed since the crackdown began Tuesday in the violence-plagued southern oil hub of Basra. Fighting quickly spread to other Shiite strongholds in the south and parts of Baghdad, raising fears that a unilateral cease-fire declared by Sadr in August could collapse.

Sadr has urged his followers to abide by the truce. But the cleric does not want them to hand over weapons to the current Iraqi government, said Sheik Haider Jabiri, a member of Sadr's political committee based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

"They should hand over the weapons to a government that will be able to take out the occupier," said Jabiri, a reference to U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

Babylon & beyond

They put on a good show, where are our PR guys

New Iraq receiving baptism of fire in Basra

This time President George W Bush has got it right. He describes the latest flare-up in the oil-rich southern city of Basra as a "defining moment in the history of a free Iraq", and no one can argue with that.

The US President's record of public declarations on Iraq's future has not always been happy. He will certainly never live down his confident prediction on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 that major combat operations had ended. While it was true the military campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime (which, incidentally, was a stunning success) had achieved its major objective, the actual task of winning the "battle of Iraq", as the President termed it, had only just begun.

In the past five years America has suffered 4,000 combat deaths and spent the astronomical sum of $3 trillion trying to get post-Saddam Iraq to a position where an elected Iraqi government is capable of running the country on its own.

At the time of Saddam's demise, the general assumption within the British and American governments was that it would take about three years to get Iraq back on its feet. The country needed a new constitution and the opportunity to elect a government for the first time in its history. But it also needed military and security resources, and they basically disintegrated after Mr Bush had given his blessing to the disastrous deBaathification programme that removed military and security personnel who had held office under Saddam.

While tangible progress was possible on political reconstruction - the constitution was approved and a government duly elected - providing Iraq with the means to protect itself and enforce the rule of law has been deeply challenging, and the burden of preventing the insurgent and terrorist groups sabotaging the Pax Americana has mainly fallen to the US-led coalition.

Until, that is, last week, when for the first time since Saddam's overthrow, the Iraqi government made what could prove to be the historic decision to assert its authority by laying down a direct challenge to the lawless militia groups that have turned large swathes of Iraq's second city into a no-go zone. In military terms, Basra has been a confrontation waiting to happen since British troops withdrew from the city centre to the air base last September.

Rather than being - as the anti-war brigade claimed - a humiliating retreat, the tactical withdrawal from Saddam's old summer palace on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab was undertaken on the basis that the continuing presence of British troops was exacerbating, rather than helping, the local security situation. The fiercely nationalistic Iraqis did not want outsiders telling them how to run their affairs.

Formal control of the city was returned to the Iraqis in a short ceremony at the air base last December, but much of Basra has remained under the control of a combination of radical Islamic militias and criminal gangs, which has made it virtually impossible for the Iraqi government in Baghdad to exercise its authority over the city.

I attended the Basra hand-over, and after the formalities the local Iraqi military commander, General Mohan al-Furayji, invited me to celebrations in the city centre. When I asked my British military escort whether this was feasible, he replied, "It depends whether you fancy making a one-way trip."

The activities of the Iraqi kidnap gangs in Basra, which almost daily abduct victims at will for either financial gain or political advantage, was one of the many issues General Mohan told me he was keen to confront as soon as he had the manpower available to deal with the militias.

"The lawlessness in Basra is an insult to the Iraqi people and an insult to the Iraqi government. It simply cannot be tolerated," he said.

General Mohan, who is now overseeing the Iraqi government's attempts to disarm the militias in Basra, personifies the folly of the American deBaathification programme.

Formerly a senior officer in Saddam's Republican Guard, he was briefly jailed in the 1990s after falling out with the Iraqi dictator. An Iraqi patriot, rather than a Saddam loyalist, he was nevertheless barred from active participation in the initial post-Saddam Iraqi administrations because of his links with the former Baathist regime.

He was brought back into the security apparatus only when Iraq's first democratically elected government took office under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Just how much of the bloodshed of the past five years might have been avoided had highly professional and experienced military officers of General Mohan's calibre been allowed to participate from the start of Iraq's reconstruction is an issue historians will debate for generations to come.

But the fact that he and other members of the Iraqi government believe they now have both the confidence and resources to assert their authority represents a critical moment in the country's development, one which could ultimately decide the country's destiny.

The coalition may have succeeded in its goal of establishing a democratic, pro-Western government in Baghdad, but not everyone in Iraq is happy with this arrangement, particularly radical Shia leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army is in the vanguard of the resistance to the Iraqi government's forces in Basra.

Al-Sadr and his supporters, who receive military and financial support from Iran, are fiercely opposed to the current political status quo, and want to see the creation of an Iranian-style Shia state in Iraq, which would not at all be in the West's interests

The big difference between the Iraqi government and the Mehdi Army is that the former has been elected, while the other seeks to impose its hardline anti-Western ideology on the Iraqi people who, in Basra at least, have no say in the matter.

Most of the Iraqi forces now attempting to ensure that the rule of law, rather that the law of the gun, prevails in Basra have been trained by the British military, which is providing air and artillery support for the Iraqi government cause.

For the battle for Basra is a test of both the Iraqi government's legitimacy and virility. If General Mohan and his colleagues can prevail over the militias who pose the greatest threat to Iraq's survival as a democratic entity, the Iraqi people can look forward to taking charge of their own destiny - and the coalition's troops can start planning their withdrawal in the knowledge that their mission has been successfully accomplished.


As if no one knew it was coming. Sooner or later, it was coming

Shiite Leader Al-Sadr Defies Iraq Gov't

BAGHDAD (AP) - Anti-American Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Saturday to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, as U.S. jets struck Shiite extremists near Basra to bolster a faltering Iraqi offensive against gunmen in the city.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power.

Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire Sunday would be extended indefinitely. Gunfire and explosions were heard late Saturday in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. Embassy tightened its security measures, ordering all staff to use armored vehicles for all travel in the Green Zone and to sleep in reinforced buildings until further notice after six days of rocket and mortar attacks that left two Americans dead.

Despite the mounting crisis, al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including the Mahdi Army. He called the fight for control of Basra "a decisive and final battle."

British ground troops, who controlled the city until handing it over to the Iraqis last December, also joined the battle for Basra, firing artillery Saturday for the first time in support of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi authorities have given Basra extremists until April 8 to surrender heavy and medium weapons after an initial 72-hour ultimatum to hand them over was widely ignored.

But a defiant al-Sadr called on his followers Saturday to ignore the order, saying that his Mahdi Army would turn in its weapons only to a government that can "get the occupier out of Iraq," referring to the Americans.

The order was made public by Haidar al-Jabiri, a member of the influential political commission of the Sadrist movement.

Al-Sadr, in an interview aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera television, said his Mahdi Army was capable of "liberating Iraq" and maintained al-Maliki's government was as "distant" from the people as Saddam Hussein's.

Residents of Basra contacted by telephone said Mahdi militiamen were manning checkpoints Saturday in their neighborhood strongholds. The sound of intermittent mortar and machine gun fire rang out across the city, as the military headquarters at a downtown hotel came under repeated fire.

An Iraqi army battalion commander and two of his bodyguards were killed Saturday night by a roadside bomb in central Basra, military spokesman Col. Karim al-Zaidi said.

The fight for Basra is crucial for al-Maliki, who flew to Basra earlier this week and is staking his credibility on gaining control of Iraq's second-largest city, which has essentially been held by armed groups for nearly three years.

In a speech Saturday to tribal leaders in Basra, al-Maliki promised to "stand up to these gangs" not only in the south but throughout Iraq.

Iraqi officials and their American partners have long insisted that the crackdown was not directed at al-Sadr's movement but against criminals and renegade factions - some of whom are allegedly tied to Iran.

Al-Maliki told tribal leaders that the offensive in Basra "was only to deal with these gangs" - some of which he said "are worse than al-Qaida."

Without mentioning the Sadrists by name, al-Maliki said he was "surprised to see that party emerge with all the weapons available to it and strike at everything - institutions, people, departments, police stations and the army."

Al-Sadr's followers have accused rival Shiite parties in the national government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall. The young cleric's lieutenants had warned repeatedly that any move to dislodge them from Basra would provoke bloodshed.

But al-Maliki's comments appeared to reinforce suspicions that his government failed to foresee the backlash, including a sharp upsurge in violence throughout the Shiite south and shelling of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, the nerve center of the Iraqi leadership and the U.S. mission.

Two American soldiers were killed Saturday when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in mostly Shiite east Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The growing turmoil threatens to undermine White House efforts to convince a skeptical Congress and the American public that the Iraqis are making progress toward managing their own security without the presence of U.S. troops.

With the Shiite militiamen defiant, a group of police in Sadr City abandoned their posts and handed over their weapons to al-Sadr's local office. Police forces in Baghdad are believed to be heavily influenced or infiltrated by Mahdi militiamen.

"We can't fight our brothers in the Mahdi Army, so we came here to submit our weapons," one policeman said on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

He said about 40 policemen had defected to the Mahdi Army. The figure could not be confirmed, but AP Television News footage showed about a dozen uniformed police, their faces covered with masks to shield their identity, being met by Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City.

Al-Feraiji greeted each policeman and gave them a copy of the Quran and an olive branch as they handed over their guns and ammunition.

Also Saturday, the U.S. military said 16 enemy fighters had been killed in airstrikes supporting Iraqi troops during clashes with Shiite militiamen in Basra. An AC-130 gunship strafed heavily armed militants attacking Iraqi forces from three rooftops, military spokesman Maj. Brad Leighton said.

Iraqi police earlier claimed eight civilians, including two women and a child, had been killed when a U.S. warplane destroyed a house early Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

But Leighton said U.S. special operations forces helped identify the militants before the airstrike.

British military spokesman Maj. Tom Holloway also said U.S. jets later dropped two precision-guided bombs on a suspected militia stronghold north of the city, but no casualties were reported.

Iraq's Health Ministry, which is close to the Sadrist movement, on Saturday reported at least 75 civilians have been killed and at least 500 others injured in a week of clashes and airstrikes in Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad neighborhoods.

The U.S. military sharply disputes the claims, having said that most of those killed were militia members.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said they had received a phone call from Tahseen Sheikhly, the high-profile civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation, who was seized by gunmen two days earlier from at his home in a Shiite area of the capital.

An Iraqi-owned satellite television station, Sharqiya, broadcast what it said was a tape of the conversation, in which a man identifying himself as Sheikhly said he was being held "with a group of officers" at an unknown location.

"Our release depends on the withdrawal of al-Maliki from Basra and the easing of the military operations against the Sadrists in all provinces," he said. "We appeal to the prime minister and the Iraqi government to work with the Sadrist movement, which represents the popular base of society."


Friday, March 28, 2008

After 2 Iraq tours, Marine gets U.S. citizenship

(CNN) -- U.S. Marine Cpl. Mario Ramos-Villalta put on his freshly pressed uniform early Thursday as a citizen of El Salvador. By the end of the day, he would be a citizen of the United States of America.

"I am an American," he said with a smile moments after his paperwork cleared.

"It means a lot to me after so many years and two combat deployments, I finally get it, being an American. We are happy about it."

"It's all thanks to CNN -- my news coming out, my story. That helped me out a lot," he said, referring to a story about his plight run March 20 by

Ramos-Villalta, with his father at his side, went to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in downtown Los Angeles, California, where dozens of other immigrants were crowded in hopes of becoming American citizens.

After about an hour, Ramos-Villalta, 22, was called into an office where he answered some questions before his citizenship was finally cleared. A few hours later, he was sworn in at a naturalization ceremony with another Marine, Lance Cpl. Jose M. Tress, 23, of Mexico, and a sailor, Cpl. Marco A. Guzman, 28, of the Phillipines.

For Ramos-Villalta's dad, it was a lifelong dream: His son is the first family member to become an American citizen.

"I'm very proud of him, as is his mother, and all his brothers and sisters," Mario Ramos said. The father came to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s.

He said his son wanted to be a member of the U.S. military since he was very young

His family has always supported him, but his father said they constantly worry about him when he's in a war zone, and they don't want him to get deployed again.

"It's what he wants, but his mother and I worry about him all the time. We're always watching the news wondering if he's safe or if anything happened to him."

But Ramos-Villalta is about to deploy to Afghanistan, his third combat tour. He twice served in Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart.

Ramos-Villalta said that finally getting citizenship lifts a huge burden, ahead of his deployment next month.

"It feels way better now. There's no more stress," he said. "I really get to fight for my country now."

Ramos-Villalta fled El Salvador's civil war in 1989 with his family as a young boy and lived in the United States for a time. Though he returned to El Salvador with his mother while his father stayed in California to work, he eventually made it back to Southern California and got his green card when he was 13.

He graduated from Santa Ana High School in Santa Ana, California, in 2004, becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school.

He then joined the Marines, becoming one of an estimated 20,500 "non-U.S. citizens" -- dubbed "green-card warriors" -- currently serving in the military.

The path to citizenship has been all the more difficult because he's been at war and wounded in action, with little time to deal with the paperwork and lawyers needed to file for citizenship.

But his new citizenship gives him hope for others in his position.

"I just hope that everybody else in the same situation gets citizenship real fast and the government can speed up the process."

The United States has tried to make it easier for foreigners serving in the military to become citizens. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush signed into law a measure allowing active-duty non-citizens who have served honorably in war on or after September 11, 2001, "to file for immediate citizenship," according to the Defense Department.

Since that time, nearly 37,000 non-citizens of the U.S. armed forces have gotten citizenship, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Another 7,300 have requests still pending. It typically takes seven to 10 months to process an application.

As of Thursday, there's at least one request that is no longer pending.

"I finally get to wear the uniform of my country," he said. "I don't feel left out."


The Risks of Defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq

President Bush claimed on Thursday that U.S. forces and Iraqi tribesman have "systematically dismantled" the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq in the long-troubled Anbar Province. And indeed, while Al Qaeda in Iraq remains dangerous and active, particularly in parts of northern Iraq, the terrorist group is having increasing difficulty pulling off its signature type of attack, deadly car bombings.

But terrorism experts are warning that defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq could bring a whole new set of risks.

For one thing, as U.S. intelligence agencies have told Congress, its operatives could shift their efforts to plotting outside the country if it becomes significantly more dangerous for Al Qaeda in Iraq to stage attacks in Iraq.

"Defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq could actually lead to the spread of violence to other places because those guys could be leaving to find other safe havens to continue their fight," says Mohammed Hafez, the author of Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom. "They are likely to go to places where there are existing conflicts."

The two most obvious destinations are Afghanistan or Pakistan, where they could potentially link up with other jihadists who have been carrying out a growing number of suicide attacks. Fighters could be drawn to the relative lawlessness of Yemen, the total anarchy of Somalia, or to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Writing in the current issue of CTC Sentinel, the monthly journal of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Hafez analyzes the experiences of Arab jihadists who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to the fight the Soviet Union and later formed the backbone of al Qaeda, the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.

Thousands of Arab volunteers were trained to fight the Soviets, but when the conflict ended, many migrated to other conflict zones around the world to continue the fight. They also had forged close ties with each other, helping them to put together a global jihadi network that allowed al Qaeda to spread its tentacles into Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Today's jihadists in Iraq are getting even more hands-on combat experience than their predecessors in Afghanistan. "What's just as important as the fighting skills are the logistical skills—the back administration office work that needs to be done for terrorism to take place," says Hafez. He is talking about skills like raising money for operations, forging documents, and smuggling fighters across international borders.

It is unclear how much U.S. officials or Iraq's neighbors have done to prepare for this threat. Hafez says that border controls must be strengthened and that American and Iraqi officials need to share intelligence on these militants with all of Iraq's neighbors to prevent them from escaping Iraq.

Of particular concern is Syria, through which the bulk of foreign fighters entered Iraq. "But they won't be willing to host the jihadis in the way Pakistan did" in the 1990s, says Hafez. "They will probably have to cross multiple borders, which increases their chances of being caught."

One other key factor could also limit how many Al Qaeda in Iraq members end up fighting elsewhere in the future. The bulk of these foreign fighters came to Iraq to be suicide bombers. "That means," says Hafez," many won't be around."

This discussion, of course, could be premature. Al Qaeda in Iraq has not yet been defeated and could still regroup successfully.

Iraq is also experiencing a new surge of violence in several Shiite cities and in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad. For now, most of the fighting appears to be between Shiite factions, but if it spreads, it has the potential to reignite some of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian bloodletting that paralyzed the country last year.


They could also go back home and take their failure back to the people that sent them too Iraq in the first place. Let those people and groups deal with their own disgruntled muji.

Anthony Cordesman: "Warning: This could lead to dancing"

"Iraqi Government Benchmark XXXIII:"Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security."(h/t RhusLancia)
Look I don't know how this current operation will end, but I do know that if you want to get from "Iraqracy" to democracy then JAM (as it is currently constructed) can't go along for the trip. They'll always be wanting to take side trips to Irancracy and Hezbollahland. The Iraqi government cleaning house against JAM is a good thing, Anthony. Learn to enjoy it.
I further recommend Mohammed Fadhil's article "Behind the Bloodshed in Basra". He makes essentially the same points as Cordesman, so why don't I come away feeling like rubbing out Sadr's thugs is a disaster for Iraq?""

Arab Summit Divided by No-Shows

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Top Arab leaders are boycotting this weekend's Arab summit in Damascus to protest Syria's hard-line stances in nearly every crisis in the Mideast.

The gathering has deepened the rift between the region's pro-U.S. camp and Iran's ally Damascus.

The no-shows by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are an embarrassment to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government had hoped the summit on Saturday and Sunday - billed as "the summit of joint Arab action" - would boost its prestige.

By staying away, the countries aimed to show Damascus the diplomatic cost of its hard line on Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is likely instead to strengthen Damascus' alliance with Iran and the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups.

"There are now two axes - Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah are on one side and the rest are on the another," said Wahid Abdel-Meguid of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Arab summits are all about protocol and symbolism, and in that language, the show of disdain from top U.S.-allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan could not be more clear.

In an unprecedented move, they are sending minor officials rather than their heads of state - or even their prime ministers or foreign ministers. Egypt's delegation will be headed by its parliamentary affairs minister. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are sending their Arab League ambassadors.

Lebanon is boycotting the summit completely, the first time an Arab country has refused to send a delegation since Arab leaders began holding annual summits in 2000. The Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora accuses Syria of blocking attempts to elect a new Lebanese president.

Even Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh decided Friday not to come, sending his vice president in his place - perhaps to curry favor with its powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia or because the summit appeared unlikely to endorse a Yemeni proposal for reconciliation between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas.

"Syria is losing friends, one after the other," said Mansour Hayal, a Yemeni political analyst.

America's Arab allies are angry at Syria in particular over Lebanon, where they demand Damascus open the way to the election of a president. The two camps are in a yearlong struggle for control of Lebanon - the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are strong supporters of Saniora's government, while Syria backs Hezbollah, the militant group that leads the Lebanese opposition.

The opposition has been boycotting Lebanon's parliament for months, preventing it from electing a president, a post that has been empty since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended in November.

Arab countries, which are mostly Sunni-led, are also nervous about Syria's controversial alliance with Shiite Iran.

In all, nine heads of state from the Arab League's 22 members are not attending the Damascus gathering.

The annual summit is frequently plagued by no-shows, often because of personal disputes among leaders. But this year, the differences are sharper and the snubs even more pointed.

With the no-shows, the headliners at this year's summit are Assad, Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who were arriving with other delegations Friday.

But Damascus may benefit from the absences, which ensure the summit will not pressure it to change its stances toward Lebanon or the Palestinians. Also, Syria showed it won't be forced to exchange its strong alliance with Iran for approval from Arabs.

"The Syrian axis is coherent and they have a clear objective and they are working in an organized way," said Abdel-Meguid, the analyst in Cairo.


I think the time for fences has long past.

This may turn out to be the most successful summit ever.

Iraq: New Clashes in the South

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi police say clashes between Shiite militants and government security forces have resumed in at least two cities south of Baghdad.

The fighting in Nasiriyah and Mahmoudiya on Friday comes as the situation is calm in Baghdad. Residents are holed up at home after a weekend curfew was imposed.

Police say four people have been killed and 14 wounded in clashes in Nasiriyah.

Anger has been growing since the Iraqi government launched a crackdown against Shiite militia violence in the southern oil port of Basra earlier this week.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers say security forces are abusing a cease-fire by his Mahdi Army militia to unfairly target them in raids.

The government says it is acting against criminal gangs.

I think its also telling about just what portion of the JAM is under Sadr and what is not. We were told that those not obeying the ceasefire were not. but then Sadr is moving to protect those very units. so it begs the question is any of JAM under the control of Sadr or is he just a figurehead?

Operation "Fix Muqty"

"At last, we are witnessing the most serious attempt to break the back of the Mahdi Army (JAM) since August 2004 when Sistani pulled their fat out of the fire and Jeffrey shut down this blog in protest. "
IBC has a nice roundup of the current situation. And I am having putter problems.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Iraq Puts Baghdad Under Weekend Curfew

BAGHDAD (AP) - The Baghdad military command has clamped a weekend curfew on the capital in a bid to stem fierce fighting between Shiite militiamen and security forces.

An official with the command says no unauthorized vehicles, motorcycles or pedestrian traffic will be allowed on the streets from 11 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Sunday.

The move comes as anger mounts among followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr over a government crackdown against his Mahdi Army militia in the southern oil port of Basra.

The security operations have sparked protests and deadly clashes in Baghdad and across the Shiite southern heartland.

Al-Maliki says he's acting against criminal gangs, but the Sadrists say he's trying to deprive them of a political voice.

Earlier Thursday, Iraq's prime minister vowed Thursday to fight "until the end" against Shiite militias in Basra despite protests by tens of thousands of followers of a radical cleric in Baghdad and deadly clashes across the capital and the oil-rich south.

Mounting anger focused on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is personally overseeing operations against the militias dominated by Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters amid a violent power struggle in Basra, Iraq's southern oil hub.

The Iraqi leader made his pledge to tribal leaders in the Basra area as military operations continued for a fourth day with stiff resistance.

"We have made up our minds to enter this battle and we will continue until the end. No retreat," he said in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state TV.

The events threatened to unravel a Mahdi Army cease-fire and lead to a dramatic escalation in violence after a period of relative calm that had lasted for months.

Sadrist lawmakers in Baghdad issued a strongly worded statement demanding a halt to the military operations and appealing to Iraqi security forces to stand down.

"We call on our brothers in the Iraqi army and the brave national police not to be tools of death in the hands of the new dictatorship," Sadrist lawmaker Falah Shanshal said.

The crisis was seen as a test of the Iraqi government's ability to eventually take over its own security. The U.S.-led coalition has a minimal presence in Basra after British forces turned over responsibility for the area to the Iraqis in late December.

Demonstrators in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah called al-Maliki a "new dictator" as they carried a coffin bearing a crossed-out picture of the U.S.-backed prime minister, who belongs to a rival political party. A sea of people also rallied in Sadr City, Baghdad's main Shiite district.

Suspected Shiite extremists also continued to hammer the U.S.-protected Green Zone, firing several rounds of apparent rockets that sent a huge plume of smoke above the heavily fortified area in central Baghdad.

One American was killed in Thursday's attacks, a government employee whose identity was being withheld pending notification of the person's relatives, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said.

The military said a U.S. soldier, two American civilians and an Iraqi soldier were wounded in a volley the day before. An American financial analyst was killed Sunday in attacks on the Green Zone.

Meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped an Iraqi civilian spokesman for Baghdad security operations Thursday and killed three of his bodyguards after torching his house in a Mahdi Army stronghold in the capital.

The attack targeted Tahseen Sheikhly, a Sunni who often appeared with U.S. military and embassy officials at news conferences to tout the successes of the crackdown on sectarian violence that began in February 2007.

The demonstrating Sadrists are angry over recent raids and detentions, saying U.S. and Iraqi forces have taken advantage of the August cease-fire to crack down on the movement.

They have accused rival Shiite parties, which control Iraqi security forces, of engineering the arrests to prevent them from mounting an effective campaign after the Iraqi parliament agreed in February to hold provincial elections by the fall.

U.S. commanders have insisted the fight is being led by the Iraqi government and was not against al-Sadr's movement but breakaway factions believed to be funded and trained by Iran, which has denied the allegations.

Al-Maliki has warned gunmen in Basra to surrender their weapons by Friday or face harsher measures.

Despite the ultimatum, heavy gunfire and explosions resounded across Basra while helicopters and jet fighters buzzed overhead. The city's police chief escaped an assassination attempt late Thursday but three of his guards were killed in the roadside bombing.

Government troops have faced stiff resistance in neighborhoods controlled by the Mahdi Army in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. Residents spoke of militiamen using mortar shells, sniper fire, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades to fight off security forces.

A Pentagon official said Wednesday that reports from the Basra area indicate that militiamen had overrun a number of police stations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Street battles that started Tuesday in Basra and Sadr City have spread to several other neighborhoods and southern cities, leaving more than 200 dead, including civilians, Iraqi troops and militants. That three-day figure was a rough estimate provided by police and hospital officials who could not give a more specific breakdown.

Iraqi officials reported 17 more people killed in overnight clashes in Sadr City, raising the total there to 40.

The death toll in the Shiite city of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, also rose to at least 60 in fighting that continued into Thursday, according to a senior police official who asked not to be identified because of security concerns.

The U.S. military said four suspected Shiite extremists were killed in an airstrike but it had no further details.

The police chief in Kut, Abdul-Hanin al-Amara said 40 gunmen had been killed and 75 others wounded in that southeastern city.

A bomb struck an oil pipeline Thursday in Basra, a local oil official said, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information.

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, however, sought to assure international oil companies. The security situation in Basra "is still unstable ... but this has not reflected negatively (on) works at oil output and export installations," al-Shahristani told the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa.

In other violence reported by police, a booby-trapped car exploded near the Iraqi Red Crescent Society's offices in Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding five.

Gunmen also killed a U.S.-allied Sunni fighter and wounded his wife and daughter after storming his house in the northern city of Samarra late Wednesday.


Escalation Of Force

"The kids in the school crowd in the doorways and peek out the windows at the foreigners clearing the area. Once we finish and take up positions inside the courtyard, the kids become more curious.

"Hello Mista!"

"Mista! Football!"

"Mista! Pen!"

"Mista! I love you!"

"Mista! Give me!"

The teachers were obviously annoyed by the distraction and the kids' unruly behavior. There was really only one way that I could ever respond to something like this.

I gave the kids the thumbs up, which they returned, moderate cheering.

I threw my fist in the air. More excitement. I started clapping my hands over my head and making hand gestures to further rile them up. The shouting and cheering and idiocy amplified. I threw both fists in the air, bringing them to a crescendo of simple childish screeching. It was all I could do to keep myself from breaking out the chant of, "USA! USA! USA!"

Satisfied with the grade school riot I had incited, I went over to the main doorway again. First Sergeant asked what all the commotion was about.

"No idea, First Sergeant," I said. "I gave 'em the thumbs up. Guess they're happy to see us.""
The Unlikely Soldier

Areas of Baghdad fall to militias as Iraqi Army falters in Basra

Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.

In Baghdad, thick black smoke hung over the city centre tonight and gunfire echoed across the city.

The most secure area of the capital, Karrada, was placed under curfew amid fears the Mahdi Army of Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr could launch an assault on the residence of Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the head of a powerful rival Shia governing party.

While the Mahdi Army has not officially renounced its six-month ceasefire, which has been a key component in the recent security gains, on the ground its fighters were chasing police and soldiers from their positions across Baghdad.

Rockets from Sadr City slammed into the governmental Green Zone compound in the city centre, killing one person and wounding several more.

Mr al-Maliki has gambled everything on the success of Operation Saulat al-Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, to sweep illegal militias out of Basra.

It has targeted neighbourhoods where the Mahdi Army dominates, prompting intense fighting with mortars, rocket-grenades and machineguns in the narrow, fetid alleyways of Basra.

In Baghdad, the Mahdi Army took over neighbourhood after neighbourhood, some amid heavy fighting, others without firing a shot.

In New Baghdad, militiamen simply ordered the police to leave their checkpoints: the officers complied en masse and the guerrillas stepped out of the shadows to take over their checkpoints.

In Jihad, a mixed Sunni and Shia area of west Baghdad that had been one of the worst battlefields of Iraq’s dirty sectarian war in 2006, Mahdi units moved in and residents started moving out to avoid the lethal crossfire that erupted.

One witness saw Iraqi Shia policemen rip off their uniform shirts and run for shelter with local Sunni neighbourhood patrols, most of them made up of former insurgents wooed by the US military into fighting al-Qaeda.

In Baghdad, thousands of people marched in demonstrations in Shia areas demanding an end to the Basra operation, burning effigies of Mr al-Maliki, whom they branded a new dictator, and carrying coffins with his image on it.

From his field headquarters inside Basra city, the Prime Minister vowed to press on with his attack, which he said was not targeting the Mahdi Army in particular but all lawless gangs. "We have come to Basra at the invitation of the civilians to do our national duty and protect them from the gangs who have terrified them and stolen the national wealth," he said. "We promise to face the criminals and gunmen and we will never back off from our promise."

Supporters of Hojetoleslam al-Sadr, the rebellious cleric who formed the sprawling, 60,000-strong militia five years ago, have accused the Prime Minister of trying to wipe out the powerful Sadrists as a political force before provincial elections in October.

Residents of Basra complained that water and electricity had been turned off in the three main areas besieged by the Iraqi Army, which has an entire division deployed for the battle. They also said that they were running low on food an unable to evacuate their wounded. Estimates of the death toll in Basra reached as high as 200, with hundreds more wounded.

“The battle is not easy without coalition support,” lamented one Basra resident, who had worked as a translator for the British forces. “The police in Basra are useless and helping the Mahdi Army. The militia are hiding among the civilians. This country will never be safe, I want to leave for ever. I don’t know how to get out of this hell.”

One man was shot in the leg while trying to fix the rooftop water tank on his house but feared he would be taken for a militiaman if he tried to reach a hospital. Officials said that more than 200 militiamen had surrendered after the Government issued a three-day deadline to give themselves up.

While residents in Basra said that the army appeared to be making little headway against the militia bastions, a British Army spokesman based at nearby Basra airport said progress was being made.

“The Iraqi Army are rebalancing across the city, consolidating their positions, resupplying and preparing for future operations,” said Major Tom Holloway. “They made considerable progress, although not total progress by any stretch of the imagination.”

With fighting flaring across the Shia south, the police chief of Kut — where Mahdi fighters had seized large parts of the town, 110 miles southeast of Baghdad — said his men had killed 40 militiamen while losing four officers.

"The security forces launched an operation at around midnight to take back areas under the control of Shiite gunmen," Abdul Hanin al-Amara said.

While US and British military officials have been at pains to distance themselves from the push against the deadly militias, President Bush praised the high-risk strategy of tackling militias that a politically weak Mr al-Maliki had been forced to court in the past.

"Prime Minister Maliki's bold decision, and it was a bold decision, to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner," Mr Bush said. "It also shows the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge."

If the Iraqi forces fail to stamp out the powerful militias, however, and Iraq sinks into a new bout of in-fighting, Mr Bush’s troops and British forces may be forced to weigh in, sparking a new round of blood-letting ahead of US elections and scuttling British plans for an early withdrawal from Iraq.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesdaze Blog Roundup on Iraq (25 March)

The times are usually not so fun in Iraq, and this past week hasn't been much different. Here's what the blogs are saying:
Obsidian Wings reports on the troubles with the Mahdi Army
Brandon Friedman talks about the ceasefire too
A Soldier's Perspective has a different take on the 4,000 dead
Michael Yon on Al-Qaeda in Ninawa province
Views of a Veteran lambastes the Minnesota school that wouldn't let VFF visit
Eighty Deuce, who recently got back from Iraq, may write a book telling his story
Small Wars Journal has a good piece on keeping in JOs (it didn't work on me)
Zen Traveler says withdrawing from Iraq a bad idea
The Tank on detainees wanting to stay in US custody for education opportunities
Army of Dude talks about the grim 4,000 milestone in a personal way
Doc in the Box likes Juno (I did too)
Michael Totten on the liberation of Karmah
Chickenhawk Express on some unruly protestors disrupting Easter mass
Hello Iraq on suicidal vets
Long War Journal in Mosul on an Al-Qaeda truck bomb
Iraq Partii has a great post on the suckass IRR recall program
Angry American re-ups! A much braver man than I
McClatchy Watch talks about a sorry ass protest
Deborah Haynes talks about snakes in the ladies loo in Basrah
Navy Gal is off to Iraq (safe travels to her)
Matthew Yglesias disagrees with Army Captain's having that much power (I disagreed in the comments)
Iraq the Purgatorium on Lessons
Newsweek Soldier's Home with diaries from the invasion in 2003
Hot Air on the foreign fighters flying the coop
False Motivation may be heading home soon
SGT Grumpy on shoddy electrical wiring
IAVA has Iraq vets hanging out with Obama
Moonbattery has some information on the return of Jesse MacBeth
Argghhh! with insight on the Iraqi economy
Fuzzilicious Thinking discusses what the war means to her
NY Time Baghdad Blog on the invasion
Abu Muqawama on freedom of speech for officers
LT Nixon Rants
With apologies to my buddy Nixon, but I got lazy and just lifted all his work wholesale.


"The same familiar dry and dead landscape flies past me as I stand in one of the hatches, on the same repetitive missions, and in that moment, it was like I had never left Iraq. Nothing had changed, same faces, same buildings, some destroyed, some just in pitiful condition.

We stop and the ramp drops. I step out and scan windows and rooftops and nooks and crannies and everything in between as we all link up and enter a building. My travel buddy and I take up positions in the stair well, not having much to talk about. The sun shining through a small window dimly lighting up the stair well added to the recurring surreal feeling I sometimes get here in Iraq. Once again, I couldn't believe that I was here."
The Unlikely Soldier

Muqtada Cries Uncle, Saddam Money Influenced Leftist Congressmen

It seems that Muqtada al-Sadr has thrown in the towel: according to this declaration allegedly signed by him, al-Sadr is ordering his followers to put down their arms and to refrain from targeting government troops. The source is Buratha News, which is affiliated with Sheikh Jalaleddin al-Saghir who is a leading parliamentarian and a member of the Supreme Islamic Council an organization that rivals, and is often in conflict with, Mr. al-Sadr. But otherwise, I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this document; we’ll know more tomorrow.

Muthana al-Hanooti turns out to be an asset of Saddam’s intelligence service: Well, Hanooti (an Iraqi-American of Palestinian descent) had me fooled—he had convinced me at the time (we spoke over the phone a couple of times in 2001) that he wasn’t a bad guy. But he also managed to fool three Democratic congressmen who were vocal critics of America’s policy regarding Iraq. But if Saddam’s money found ways to influence the U.S. Congress and convinced certain leftist-leaning representatives to stand against the war then isn’t it reasonable to wonder who else was influenced by this sophisticated and well-funded charm campaign mounted by the Iraqi Intelligence Service? What if it wasn’t Barack Obama’s “sound judgment” that led him to oppose the war? What if he had been influenced by talking points authored in the mukhaberat’s Harthiya HQ that ended up as leftist rhetoric in Chicago?
Talisman Gate

And before you go read anything else, click right now and read Operation Cavalry Charge (Updated) to get a completely different narrative of the current situation in the south and the Shi'a on Shi'a fighting

China Protests US Missile Fuse Mistake

BEIJING (AP) - China strongly protested to the U.S. on Wednesday over the mistaken delivery of fuses for long-range missiles to Taiwan, the latest incident involving arms sales to the island to roil relations between Beijing and Washington.

In a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's Web site, spokesman Qin Gang said China sent a protest to Washington expressing "strong displeasure."

"We ... demand the U.S. side thoroughly investigate this matter, and report to China in a timely matter the details of the situation and eliminate the negative effects and disastrous consequences created by this incident," Qin said.

He reiterated China's long-standing demand that the United States halt all weapons sales and military-to-military contacts with Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing has claimed as its own since the sides split amid civil war in 1949.

Ending those practices would help Washington "avoid damaging peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the healthy development of China-U.S. relations," Qin said.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it had no immediate comment on China's statement.

U.S. officials have moved quickly to mollify Beijing over the mix-up in which the Pentagon mistakenly sent four cone-shaped fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles to Taiwan in August 2006 instead of helicopter batteries ordered by the island's military.

The fuses, for use in Minuteman strategic missiles, are linked to the triggering mechanisms of nuclear warheads but contain no nuclear materials themselves. The fuses were returned after the foul-up was realized late last week, and an investigation headed by Navy Adm. Kirkland H. Donald was ordered.

It was the second nuclear-related mistake announced by the U.S. military in recent months. Last August, an Air Force B-52 bomber was wrongly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at a base in North Dakota and then flown to Louisiana. Its crew wasn't aware nuclear arms were aboard.

Ryan Henry, the No. 2 policy official in Defense Secretary Robert Gates' office, called the mistaken shipment of the fuses to Taiwan intolerable and said President Bush as well as Chinese leaders were informed of the matter once it was discovered.

Henry said if the incident violated any treaty or agreement, it was unintentional.

"We are being totally transparent. We have corrected the situation," he said. "The United States stands up to its treaty obligations and we're dealing with this in the most straightforward manner we can."

Adding to the Pentagon's embarrassment, a senior Taiwan defense official said Wednesday that the U.S. originally asked Taiwan to dispose of the missile fuses, before realizing the sensitivity of the technology involved.

"The U.S. recently informed us that the parts had been mistakenly sent to Taiwan, and they asked us to dispose of the parts by ourselves," said Wu Wei-rong, director-general of Taiwan's armaments bureau. "The U.S. then realized the parts were sensitive, controlled items which Taiwan could not deal with, and soon the parts were returned."

The error raised major concerns because of its link to nuclear weaponry and China's sensitivity about the United States supplying arms to Taiwan.

Beijing routinely complains about the weapon sales. While its anger is usually intense but short-lived after a deal is announced, the issue has occasionally led to serious tremors in its up-and-down relationship with Washington.

Most recently, U.S. approval of the sale of missiles and anti-submarine warfare planes to Taiwan was believed to have triggered Beijing's rejection of Hong Kong port calls by the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier group last fall. China hinted its response was also prompted by the U.S. Congress honoring the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of restive Tibet.

Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations.

Despite the lack of a U.S. defense pact, or even diplomatic ties with Taiwan since Washington opened formal relations with Beijing in 1979, America is the island's biggest arms supplier, selling it about $10 billion worth of arms between 1999 and 2006.

U.S. law also requires that the Pentagon ensure Taiwan can defend itself - a provision interpreted by some as meaning U.S. military forces could help repel any attack on the island.


Cell Phone Shutdown Angers Afghans

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Taliban attacks on telecom towers have prompted cell phone companies to shut down service across southern Afghanistan at night, angering a quarter million customers who have no other telephones.

Even some Taliban fighters now regret the disruptions and are demanding that service be restored by the companies.

The communication blackout follows a campaign by the Taliban, which said the U.S. and NATO were using the fighters' cell phone signals to track them at night and launch pinpoint attacks.

About 10 towers have been attacked since the warning late last month - seven of them seriously - causing almost $2 million in damage, the telecom ministry said. Afghanistan's four major mobile phone companies began cutting nighttime service across the south soon after.

The speed with which the companies acted shows how little influence the government has in remote areas and how just a few attacks can cripple a basic service and a booming, profitable industry. The shutdown could also stifle international investment in the country during a time of rising violence.

But the cutoff is proving extremely unpopular among Afghan citizens. Even some Taliban fighters are asking that the towers be switched back on, said Afghanistan's telecommunications minister, A. Sangin.

That dissenting view shows how decisions made by the top-ranking Taliban leadership can have negative consequences for lower-ranking fighters in the field, the minister said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid hinted in a telephone interview that the group could change its tactics.

"We see that some people are having problems, so we might change the times that the networks are shut down in the coming days," Mujahid said.

That the Taliban could dictate when the country's mobile phone networks operate shows the weakness of the central government and the international forces that operate here, said Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political analyst in Kabul.

"After the Taliban announcement, they were aware of the situation, and still they couldn't provide security for the towers," Akhgar said. "Maybe destroying a few towers will not have any effect on the government, but the news or the message that comes out of this is very big, and all to the benefit of the Taliban."

All four of the major phone companies - Roshan, AWCC, Areeba and Etisalat - declined to comment.

Sangin said the government is not overly worried about the Taliban threat because Afghans are becoming increasingly angered by the shutdown. He said seven destroyed towers, and three others with minor damage, out of the 2,000 now in the country was "not a big thing," though he added that the towers cost from $150,000 to $300,000 each.

"Our view of the people targeting the telecom infrastructure is that it's not a fight against the foreign troops, it's not a fight against the government, it's actually targeting the people, because the result of such activities is that the people will suffer," Sangin said. "We believe the people will stand up and provide protection for the telecom towers."

Haji Jan Ahmed Aqa, a 45-year-old farmer from the remote and dangerous Zhari district of Kandahar province, said the loss of cell phone communication at night is a big problem.

"What do we do if someone is sick?" he asked. "How can you agree to this Taliban demand? Maybe next the Taliban will say they have a problem in the daytime, and they'll shut down the network at daytime as well."

Afghanistan's cell phone industry has seen explosive growth since towers first appeared in late 2002, Sangin said. The country now has 5.4 million cell phone users and the industry has invested more than $1 billion. Sangin said he expects another $500 million in investments over the next two years.

Attacks on towers have taken place across the south, where the Taliban is most active. Companies have shut down service primarily in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul provinces.

An official with knowledge of the situation said about 10 percent of the country's towers were being turned off at night, affecting up to 300,000 people. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he wasn't authorized to release that information.

The shutdown, Sangin noted, is causing problems both for civilians and for militants.

"In these provinces I've actually received reports where the Taliban has gone to some towers and told the companies not to shut them down, and keep them running," said Sangin. "I get the feeling that they are already regretting their decision to shut down the services."

Simon Baker, a Moscow-based analyst with the telecommunication firm IDC, said that despite the attacks, the outlook for the telecom industry in Afghanistan is still "pretty good," given the country's large untapped user base.

"There are substantial amounts of capital behind it. I think people will try to find a solution to this," Baker said. "Major international players will take the longer term view."

Sangin said the Taliban's stated reason for wanting the networks shut down - because the U.S. and NATO can track militants' movements - doesn't make sense, because the fighters could simply turn their phones off or remove the batteries. He said the military has other ways to track the militants.

U.S. Ambassador William Wood told reporters last month that the threat could cause investors to hesitate.

"I don't think that it's a serious threat because the Taliban relies on cell phones, too," Wood said. "But you can see how that would be a problem for a private investor."

Sangin, the telecommunications minister, said the Taliban closed down a cell tower in Ghazni province about four months ago, but that villagers demanded it reopen.

"The people said please ... repair the infrastructure and we will guarantee the security of the tower," Sangin said. "We believe that if the Taliban continue with these kinds of activities the hatred will increase against them, and as a result we are awaiting a change in their policy."


AP IMPACT: Shiite Enclave Back on Edge

BAGHDAD (AP) - Shiite militiamen are everywhere. Police and Iraqi army checkpoints are nowhere in sight. U.S. soldiers are keeping their distance.

Sadr City - the Baghdad nerve center for the powerful Mahdi Army - is suddenly back on edge as the militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Iraq's government lock in a dangerous confrontation over clout and control among the nation's majority Shiites.

The epicenter of the showdown has been the southern oil hub of Basra, where clashes have claimed dozens of lives this week and al-Sadr's forces face a Friday deadline to surrender.

But a more finely tuned measure of the tensions may be found among the one- and two-story homes and shabby storefronts of Sadr City. As the crisis deepened, The Associated Press toured Sadr City on Wednesday to observe its rapid swing from relative quiet to a return of the Mahdi Army swagger before the U.S. military troop buildup in Baghdad last year.

Sadr City - named after Muqtada al-Sadr's father, who was assassinated in 1999 - is seen as critical to the overall stability and security of the capital.

A resurgence of Mahdi Army attacks and opposition could roll back the gains that have allowed Baghdad residents to take cautious steps toward normal life and offered Washington hope of accelerating troop withdrawals.

But recent days have resurrected old challenges.

Al-Sadr's militia forces, estimated at about 60,000, now seem itching for a fight. The current crisis came to a head over U.S. and Iraqi raids that have detained hundreds of Mahdi Army loyalists even as the group maintained a shaky cease-fire since August - which the Pentagon has credited for helping bring down violence.

The tensions have spilled over into street battles in Basra between Mahdi fighters and Iraqi government forces. Fighting also has flared in other cities across southern Iraq's Shiite heartland - where Iran is hedging its bets by supporting factions of the Mahdi Army and its main Shiite rival.

Mahdi fighters also are blamed for a series of rocket barrages on the U.S.-protected Green Zone, which was hit again Wednesday. The Pentagon appears to want no part of the current troubles. Commanders worry that American troops could be drawn into difficult urban conflict, sapping energy from the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents.

U.S. forces have made only sporadic stabs into Sadr City, choosing instead to strengthen a security cordon on the outskirts. U.S. commanders, meanwhile, have a limited presence in southern Iraq and show no signs of diverting soldiers - as they did in the last major fight against the Mahdi Army in 2004.

"We are a different force than the one you saw in 2004," a senior Mahdi commander said at his Sadr City home.

"We are now better organized, have better weapons, command centers and easy access to logistical and financial support," added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Squatting on the floor next to two of his fighters, the commander sipped sweet black tea as a U.S. helicopter flew low overhead. A burst of gunfire rang out at one point. Another moment, he listened to the screech of a rocket.

"That's going to the Green Zone," he said.

When one of his fighters left the house, he warned about driving too close to American patrols on the edge of the district - a grid-pattern of teeming streets in northeast Baghdad built in the 1950s to house poor Shiite workers.

It was first named Revolution City. Then it became Saddam City. After Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, it was designated Sadr City after al-Sadr's father, Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, whose death is blamed on Saddam agents.

"Don't be too impressed with what the Americans have. We can still win because we have faith and a just cause on our side," said one of the two militiamen in the commander's home.

Sadr City, home to 2.5 million people, looked like a place bracing for battle.

Its streets - normally crowded and noisy - were oddly quiet. Beside the militiamen, only youngsters were out in large numbers, playing soccer on dirt fields. Most stores were shuttered.

The militiamen, some wearing ammunition belts and sporting two-way radios, were out in full force dressed in a ragtag collection of tracksuits, jeans and pajamas. But they carried the essential firepower for effective street conflict: AK-47 rifles or grenade launchers.

Some stood behind rickety market stands with machine guns perched on top. Snipers took up position on rooftops. Others drove in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.

Many curbs showed traces of disturbed asphalt - usually a telltale sign of freshly planted roadside bombs. Streets were barricaded by rocks, metal furniture or burning tires. Lookouts on motorbikes relayed the latest movements of U.S. armor deployed nearby.

Mahdi Army commanders have told the AP that the militia has recently taken delivery of new weapons supplied by backers in Iran. The arsenal, they said, included roadside bombs, anti-aircraft guns and Soviet-designed Grad rockets.

They also said an infusion of cash, also from Iran, helped the militia set up new command centers equipped with Internet-linked computers, fax machines and satellite mobile phones. They have also received global positioning system devices, they said.

The United States has long accused Iran of providing Shiite militias in Iraq with arms and training. Iran denies it.

Aides to al-Sadr in Baghdad insisted the Mahdi Army cease-fire remained in force, but warned of dire results if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government continued its crackdown against Mahdi militiamen.

"There will be grave consequences," said Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City.

"We are not going to stand by and watch our sons getting killed," he told tribal leaders at a mosque. "You must tell the government that you will disown it if it doesn't stop the operations in the entire south."

Al-Sadr's movement gained ground in Sadr City in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's ouster. It quickly filled the vacuum left by the regime's fall - and Washington's lack of postwar planning - by running basic services and clamping down on looting in a district that had once been notorious for high crime and unemployment.

The militia is not universally popular in Sadr City because some of its men are involved in extortion and kidnapping. But the Mahdi Army is credited by most residents for protecting the district against Sunni militants during the height of Baghdad's sectarian war in 2006 and early 2007.

The bond between Sadr City's residents and the militia was on display Wednesday, with families offering fighters water, tea and food.

"Today, a family sent us rice and meat for lunch," said another militia commander, who identified himself only by the nickname Abu Ali and said he was one of 12 who oversee the Mahdi Army operations in Baghdad and the south.

Al-Sadr's support was instrumental in helping al-Maliki clinch the prime minister's job in 2006, but the two men fell out about a year ago.

"Down with al-Maliki's government," is now common graffiti in Sadr City. "The Dawa party is treasonous," declared another one, referring to al-Maliki's party.


Militiamen Holding Out in Basra Fighting

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's prime minister warned gunmen in the oil port of Basra to surrender their weapons by Friday or face harsher measures, as clashes between security forces and Shiite militia fighters spread throughout the south and in Baghdad.

Despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ultimatum Wednesday, government troops in Basra were having trouble making inroads into neighborhoods that the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has controlled for years. Residents spoke of militiamen using mortar shells, sniper fire, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades to fight off security forces.

A Pentagon official said reports from the Basra area indicate that militiamen had overrun a number of police stations and that it was unclear how well the Iraqi security forces were performing overall. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, remained in Basra to supervise a crackdown against the spiraling violence between militia factions vying for control of the center of Iraq's vast oil industry, located near the Iranian border. The events threatened to unravel a Mahdi Army cease-fire and spark a dramatic escalation in violence after a monthslong period of relative calm.

Street battles that broke out Tuesday in Basra and Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City spread to several other neighborhoods and southern cities, leaving nearly 140 dead, including civilians, Iraqi security forces and militants. That two-day figure was a rough estimate provided by police and hospital officials who could not give a more specific breakdown.

In Baghdad, 16 rockets slammed into the U.S.-protected Green Zone, the U.S. military said, as the heavily fortified area was hammered for the third time this week. One soldier with the U.S.-led coalition, two American civilians and an Iraqi soldier were wounded in the attacks, it said.

At least 11 Iraqis were killed elsewhere in the capital by rounds that apparently fell short, police said.

Two American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in separate attacks in Baghdad, the military said, raising the overall U.S. death toll since the war started more than five years ago to at least 4,003, according to an Associated Press count.

The Sadrists are angry over recent raids and detentions, saying U.S. and Iraqi forces have taken advantage of the August cease-fire to crack down on the movement.

They have accused rival Shiite parties, which control Iraqi security forces, of engineering the arrests to prevent them from mounting an effective campaign after the Iraqi parliament agreed in February to hold provincial elections by the fall.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, cautioned against dismissing those concerns.

"The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shiite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule," he said in an analysis.

The U.S. military insisted the fight was not against al-Sadr's movement but breakaway factions believed to be funded and trained by Iran, which has denied the allegations.

"This is not a battle against the Jaish al-Mahdi nor is it a proxy war between the United States and Iran," military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said, using the Arabic term for the Mahdi Army. "It is the government of Iraq taking the necessary action to deal with criminals on the streets."

President Bush told The Times of London in an interview published Wednesday that the Iraqi government's decision to "respond forcefully" was a "positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law."

There is minimal U.S. presence in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

British forces turned over responsibility for Basra to the Iraqis in late December but say they will assist the Iraqis upon request.

British troops have remained at their base at the airport outside Basra and were not involved in the ground fighting, although British planes were providing air surveillance, according to the British Ministry of Defense. It said the Iraqis had not asked the British to intervene.

Some 2,000 Iraqi troops reinforcements were sent to Basra, where gunfire echoed through the streets.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a chief adviser to al-Maliki, said gunmen in Basra who turn over their weapons to police stations by Friday and sign a pledge renouncing violence will not face prosecution.

"Any gunman who does not do that within these three days will be an outlaw," he said.

Despite the government presence, the militiamen appeared to be holding their positions.

Khaldoon Faisal, a 35-year-old taxi driver in Basra's Jamhoriyah area, said the Mahdi Army was putting up fierce resistance with grenades, bombs, mortar shelling and sniper fire.

"My neighborhood now is under the control of the Mahdi Army," Faisal said. He said Iraqi armored vehicles were in the main street but that "they cannot go deep into the neighborhood."

Police Lt. Col. Ali Sabri said the Mahdi army was surrounding a police training center in northern Basra but that "fierce fighting is taking place and police are defending the site."

Essam Abbas, a 31-year-old barber in western Basra, said "the Mahdi Army controls an Iraqi army base in the area because Iraqi troops fled the scene, leaving their vehicles and weapons."

He said supplies of food and drinking water were running short.

"Why did al-Maliki come to Basra and bring with him this tragedy?" Faisal said.

Hundreds of Shiites took to the streets in Sadr City and Karbala on Wednesday, demanding the government stop military operations in Basra and other cities and withdraw all security forces.

The deadliest clashes were in Basra, where at least 47 people were killed and 223 wounded in the two days of fighting, hospital officials said. The clashes in Baghdad left 39 dead and dozens wounded; 23 of those killed were in Sadr City.

A mortar barrage struck homes amid clashes in the Shiite city of Kut southeast of Baghdad, killing 15 civilians, including a woman and her grandson, according to police.

Clashes also broke out between Mahdi Army elements and Iraqi troops backed by U.S. helicopters in Hillah, and 19 fighters were killed, police Capt. Muthanna Khalid said. The American military said four Shiite extremists were killed in an airstrike supporting Iraqi forces.