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Uncle J apologizes to CNN's Mikey Ware

Good News from Iraq Report- The FishWrap

From the mighty LT Fishman at StratFor comes the FishWrap, his open source round up of good news from Iraq. He starts off with the, news to Michael Ware, info that Baghdad is it's safest since 2005. Hmmmm. UPDATE: LT Fish somehow failed to credit the first piece to one of our favorites Bill Roggio. Now it could be just a slip, but I think the LT figgers he can just jack Bill up:

A major success that has helped to keep sectarian tensions at bay (deaths in Baghdad are at the lowest rate since March of 2005) has been the sidelining of Muqtada al Sadr and the fracturing of his Mahdi Army. We've noted this process has been ongoing for almost a year, and the Sadr's flight to Iran has destroyed his command and control over the militia. "Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, [Pentagon Officials] said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf," the Washington Post notes today. "It's clear that he does not control all the organization. There are splinter groups that don't answer and won't answer to him, particularly since he is in Tehran now," a senior Pentagon official told the Post. While EFP [Explosively Formed Projectiles] attacks are increasing in some neighborhoods, overall the number of EFP attacks are down. U.S. forces just captured another member of an EFP cell in Sadr City. While many view the splintering of the Mahdi Army as a negative, the fact is that the most extreme elements were never going to accept a political solution, as they answer to their Iranian masters. The more moderate elements are now free from Sadr and Iran's influence.

Good News Iraq 31 March Lieutenant Jarred Fishman, USAFR

1) Deaths in Baghdad Lowest Rate since early 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/baghdad_navigator/

A major success that has helped to keep sectarian tensions at bay (deaths in Baghdad are at the lowest rate since March of 2005) has been the sidelining of Muqtada al Sadr and the fracturing of his Mahdi Army. We've noted this process has been ongoing for almost a year, and the Sadr's flight to Iran has destroyed his command and control over the militia. "Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, [Pentagon Officials] said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf," the Washington Post notes today. "It's clear that he does not control all the organization. There are splinter groups that don't answer and won't answer to him, particularly since he is in Tehran now," a senior Pentagon official told the Post. While EFP [Explosively Formed Projectiles] attacks are increasing in some neighborhoods, overall the number of EFP attacks are down. U.S. forces just captured another member of an EFP cell in Sadr City. While many view the splintering of the Mahdi Army as a negative, the fact is that the most extreme elements were never going to accept a political solution, as they answer to their Iranian masters. The more moderate elements are now free from Sadr and Iran's influence. The Mahdi split has weakened Sadr politically and has exposed his operation as an Iranian foil. Sadr has portrayed himself as an Iraqi patriot, but the longer he stays in Iran while the Iranian Qods Force cannibalizes his militia, the more his influence in Iraq will wane. Much like the split in the Mahdi Army, the fault lines within the Sunni insurgency are now becoming apparent. The 1920s Revolution Brigades, which is one of the four most influential Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq, has now split into two factions: al-Jihad al-Islami (Islamic Jihad) Corps and the al-Fatih al-Islami (Islamic Conquest or Hamas). The Hamas branch has sided with al Qaeda in Iraq, while the Islamic Jihad faction opposes joining al Qaeda. Large elements of the 1920s Revolution Brigades in Anbar province have already thrown in their lot with the Anbar Salvation Council, which is actively hunting al Qaeda.The splitting of the Sunni insurgency and the advancement of the reconciliation process is key to isolating al Qaeda and providing intelligence on the network. Coalition forces detained 11 al Qaeda suspects, including six near the Syrian border and five in Karma. Karma has been a hotbed of al Qaeda activity of late.



1B) Sunni Sheiks Join Fight Versus Insurgency

By TODD PITMAN Associated Press Writer March 25, 2007, 2:39 PM ED
RAMADI, Iraq -- Not long ago it would have been unthinkable: a Sunni sheik allying himself publicly with American forces in a xenophobic city at the epicenter of Iraq's Sunni insurgency.Today, there is no mistaking whose side Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi is on. Outside his walled home, a U.S. tank is on permanent guard beside a clutch of towering date palms and a protective dirt berm.The 36-year-old sheik is leading a growing movement of Sunni tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaida-linked insurgents in Anbar province. The dramatic shift in alliances may have done more in a few months to ease daily street battles and undercut the insurgency here than American forces have achieved in years with arms.The American commander responsible for Ramadi, Col. John W. Charlton, said the newly friendly sheiks, combined with an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy and the presence of thousands of new Sunni police on the streets, have helped cut attacks in the city by half in recent months.In November 2005, American commanders held a breakthrough meeting with top Sunni chiefs in Ramadi, hoping to lure them away from the insurgents' fold. The sheiks responded positively, promising cooperation and men for a police force that was then virtually nonexistent.Al-Rishawi, whose father and three brothers were killed by al-Qaida assassins, said insurgents were "killing innocent people, anyone suspected of opposing them. They brought us nothing but destruction and we finally said, enough is enough."Al-Rishawi founded the Anbar Salvation Council in September with dozens of Sunni tribes. Many of the new newly friendly leaders are believed to have at least tacitly supported the insurgency in the past, though al-Rishawi said he never did."I was always against these terrorists," al-Rishawi said in an interview inside his American-guarded compound, adjusting a pistol holstered around his waist. "They brainwashed people into thinking Americans were against them. They said foreigners wanted to occupy our land and destroy our mosques. They told us, 'We'll wage a jihad. We'll help you defeat them.'"The difficult part was convincing others it wasn't true, and that "building an alliance with the Americans was the only solution," al-Rishawi said.His movement, also known as the Anbar Awakening, now counts 41 tribes or sub-tribes from Anbar, though al-Rishawi acknowledges that some groups in the province have yet to join. It's unclear how many that is, or much support the movement really has.And there is opposition. In November, a top Sunni leader who heads the Association of Muslim Scholars, Sheik Harith al-Dhari, described al-Rishawi's movement as "thieves and bandits." And for at least a year, U.S. forces have also witnessed sporadic firefights between Sunni militias and insurgents in Ramadi, reflecting the growing split among Sunnis. They used to describe such skirmishes as "red on red" fighting -- battles between enemies. Now they call it "red on green."But violence in some districts of Ramadi previously hit by daily street battles has dwindled to a degree so low that American soldiers can walk on the streets in some areas and hand out soccer balls without provoking a firefight -- apparently a direct result of the sheik's influence.
U.S. Lt. Nathan Strickland, also of the 1-77th, said the sheiks were influenced by the realization that Shiite Iran's regional influence was rising, and "the presence of (Sunni) foreign fighters here was disrupting the traditional local tribal structure."Al-Rishawi and other sheiks urged their tribesmen to join the police force, and 4,500 Sunnis heeded the call in Ramadi alone -- a remarkable feat in a city that had almost no police a year ago.Local Sunnis have deeply resented the overwhelmingly Shiite Iraqi army units the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has deployed here. Sunni tribes have begun to realize that if anybody is going to secure the city, it might as well be the sons of Ramadi, Strickland said.Also pouring through the streets in police trucks fixed with heavy machine-guns are 2,500 Sunni tribesmen who have joined newly created SWAT team-like paramilitary units. Paid by the Interior Ministry with the blessing of U.S. commanders, the so-called Emergency Response Units are clearly loyal to local sheiks. Some wear track suits and face-covering red-checkered headscarves -- looking startlingly like insurgent fighters. Others wear crisp green camouflage uniforms bought by al-Rishawi.The ERU members were screened and sent either on 45-day police training courses in Jordan or seven-day courses at a military base in Ramadi -- part of an effort to capitalize on the Awakening movement and make use of them as quickly as possible."I'd say 20 percent of the credit for the change in Ramadi could be taken by U.S. forces," said Strickland. "The vast majority of the turnaround is due to the sheiks."Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made his first trip to Anbar province this month, meeting al-Rishawi and saying he applauded Sunni tribes and clans that had "risen up and countered terrorism."Still, al-Rishawi complained the Interior Ministry had given police and ERU units "one-tenth" of the resources they needed -- from equipment to guns to food, despite promises to do more. Some of the fighters use automatic weapons they brought from home."If I had the tools, I could wipe al-Qaida from Anbar within five months," al-Rishawi said.Strickland said the government was probably "hesitant to strengthen and supply something that might become a popular Sunni movement."The message has taken longer to spread to eastern Ramadi, but it's getting through there, too, said Maj. Dave Christensen of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.The base he works from used to be hit daily by mortar attacks, prompting outgoing barrages targeting launch sites that inadvertently damaged buildings, killed cattle, and alienated locals. The sheik responsible for the neighborhood where the attacks originated began cooperating with Americans a few months ago, prompting insurgents to attack and burn down his house."He fought back, then called and said, 'Hey, I've been helping you, now I could use your help,'" Christensen said.U.S. forces moved into the now relatively quiet area, and Christensen's base has seen only a handful of mortar strikes since.

2) U.S. and Iraqi forces capture suspect linked to sophisticated EFP bombs The Associated Press Friday, March 30, 2007 http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/03/30/africa/ME-GEN-Iraq-Raid.php

BAGHDAD: The U.S. military announced the capture Friday of a suspected militant linked to the import into Iraq of sophisticated roadside bombs that the Americans have asserted are coming from Iran. The suspect, who was detained by U.S. and Iraqi forces during a raid in the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, was believed to be tied to networks bringing the weapons known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, into Iraq, the military said. The suspect was believed to be involved with several violent extremist groups responsible for attacks against Iraqis and U.S.-led forces, according to the statement. It did not name the suspect or the groups, but the U.S. military has asserted in recent months that Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Quds force have been providing Shiite militias with weapons and parts for sophisticated armor-piercing bombs. The EFPs are responsible for the deaths of more than 170 American and coalition soldiers since mid-2004, the military says. Residents claimed the man arrested was a 58-year-old father of six children who was unemployed. They said the raid began at 2 a.m. and targeted four houses, and the American and Iraqi troops seized money, a computer and several cell phones.

3) Pentagon buys gear from Iraqi factories


 By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer  In an Iraq jobs program, the Pentagon has helped reopen three factories shuttered after the 2003 invasion, seeding the ground by buying uniforms and armored vehicles for its Iraqi allies from two of them. Reopening state-owned factories that produced everything from cement to buses for Saddam Hussein's regime is among efforts President Bush hopes will boost the economy and help salvage a violent Iraq. His strategy of increasing troops there to try to calm violence is meant to buy the Iraqi government time to move forward on political reconciliation and reconstruction. In a program started nearly a year ago, the Defense Department has reopened a large textile factory in Najaf by buying uniforms for Iraqi soldiers and police that the U.S. has been training and has reopened a vehicle factory south of Baghdad by buying armored vehicles, said Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense in charge of Pentagon business modernization efforts. He has been running the program. Officials helped find other customers for the third restarted factory, in Ramadi, which makes ceramic products. Brinkley has been taking representatives from private industry in the United States and elsewhere to Iraq to encourage them to do business in the country. One company has agreed to buy 120 trucks from the transport company and another is expected to buy clothing from the textile factory that Brinkley said could be on American shelves by fall. Brinkley said the program will reopen private as well as government factories. Military commanders have long seen employment as one of the keys to slowing the violence. The idea of restarting factories differs from some previous reconstruction efforts that have had limited success in that it is aimed at providing long-term employment for factory workers as opposed to short-term jobs with individual rebuilding projects. Of some 200 large factories that made up Iraq's former industrial base, Brinkley said the Pentagon believes 140 are potentially viable and has identified ways to get 56 of them running again, possibly this year.

4) Iraq Special Operations Troops Graduate http://www.iraqslogger.com/index.php/post/2144/Iraq_Special_Operations_Troops_Graduate Elite Force Demonstrates Skills Before Maliki, Petraeus Near Baghdad

A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces is shown during a demonstration of their abilities at a graduation ceremony March 29, 2007, in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki and the top U.S commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus attended the ceremony. Iraqi Special Operations Forces completed graduation exercises on the western outskirts of Baghdad Thursday before an audience that included Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and top U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus. As the most elite unit of the Iraqi Armed Forces, Special Operations troops are charged with battling the insurgency at its highest levels.

5) "Hamas of Iraq" Splits from 1920 Brigades

Militant Groups Splintering over Negotiations

http://www.iraqslogger.com/ index...m_1920_Brigades
A new group by the name of “Hamas of Iraq” has announced its formation, al-Melaf reports in Arabic. This armed group has apparently been formed by seceding from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, which has carried out operations in many areas of the country. This development points to the existence of divisions among the leadership of the various armed groups, which are becoming manifest as some groups follow the inclination to abandon armed operations and enter into negotiations with the government. Sharp divisions have opened between the leaders who support these divisions, especially after the assassination attempt on the Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaei, and those who oppose them. At the same time, al-Sabah carries a brief report pointing to splits emerging within groups affiliated with al-Qa'ida, which it says will isolate al-Qa'ida in Diyala and Anbar provinces. Al-Sabah says that the groups “would receive direct orders from Arab states” to give up armed operations and enter negotiations. The brief report does not name the groups or states it refers to. This alleged splintering in Sunni organizations comes in tandem with reports of a similar splintering in the Mahdi Army, reported earlier.

6) On the Ground in Anbar: Positive Developments


“As we were leaving the OP, the Iraqi villagers brought another man with his hands bound and eyes blindfolded, accusing him of being involved. It saddens me that children had to die to shock the villagers out of their fear of the insurgents, but at least they did something about it. Second: We went back out on the same resupply run yesterday. There has been an amazing transformation in the area just in the week since we were there last. The road we take up to the OP that I said was such a bad route? It is now lined with checkpoints manned by militia fighters standing alongside Marines. The massive blast holes and craters in the road have been filled in, and both children and adults walked out where I have never seen people before. The children at the beginning of the road are still there, and still cheering for "Free stuff, Mister!", but now they have friends all along the rest of the road.

7)  Al Qaeda being pressed by Sunni Tribes


“The latest attack against a moderate Sunni -- likely carried out by the jihadists -- clearly suggests these transnational elements are attempting to discourage Sunni leaders from following a moderate path and cooperating with the Iraqi government, or from accepting help from Saudi Arabia. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie was wounded in the suicide bombing attack, which occurred during Friday prayers at a hall near Baghdad's Foreign Ministry. A week earlier, suspected jihadist insurgents detonated three vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices packed with chlorine west of Baghdad in Anbar province, including one near a prayer hall used by a Sunni cleric who had spoken out against al Qaeda. These attacks and al-Libi's appeal are signs of desperation on the part of the jihadists in Iraq. Al Qaeda realizes its influence in the country is waning and is appealing to Iraqi and foreign jihadists to concentrate their efforts on the common enemy, rather than on one another. That al-Libi made an appeal that normally would have come from al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden suggests he is being groomed to take on a more important role in al Qaeda.”

8) Japan Extends Air Force Mission in Iraq

Japan's Cabinet OKs 2-Year Extension of Air Force Mission in Iraq After It Expries in July

The Associated Press TOKYO - Japan's Cabinet approved a two-year extension of the country's air force mission in Iraq after it expires in July, the foreign minister announced Friday. Tokyo has been airlifting U.N. and coalition personnel and supplies into Baghdad and other Iraqi cities from nearby Kuwait since early last year as part of efforts to support Iraq's reconstruction.The mission had been set to end July 31."A two-year extension is necessary to continue stable airlifting support" because Iraq's reconstruction has not been completed, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said in a statement after Cabinet approved the plan."International society seeks support for Iraq's reconstruction and that (Japan's continuing support) also serves Japan's national interest," Aso said.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet hopes to get parliamentary approval of a bill for the extension by late June.Tokyo has backed the U.S.-led Iraq invasion and provided troops for a non-combat, humanitarian mission in the southern city of Samawah beginning in 2004.Japan withdrew the ground troops in July 2006, and has since expanded its Kuwait-based air operations.The Iraq mission is among Japan's steps to boost its international profile. In October it also approved a one-year extension of its Indian Ocean naval mission supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

9) Golden Dragons Discover Cache Site, VBIED Production Site
Multi-National Division – Baghdad PAO 2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) Public Affairs
RUSHDI MULLAH, Iraq – Coalition force members detained three suspected terrorist,
discovered three caches and seized a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device
production site here March 28.Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) participated in an operation intended to deny terrorist safe haven in the “Golden Dragon’s” area of operations. The operation, which consisted of air-assault and river phases, proved to be successful when elements of 2-14 Inf. discovered a house that had a false wall. Behind the false wall was a large weapons cache. In the cache were seven RPK medium machine guns, 10 AK-47s, 30 empty AK-47 magazines, 11 full AK-47 magazines, a semi-automatic rifle, 300 9mm rounds, three full and three empty G3 assault rifle magazines, 1,000 7.62mm rounds, 200 linked unknown rounds, 12.7mm caliber brass, an expended 155mm artillery canister, two.308 bolt action rifles, a mortar fuse and a U.S.-made submachine gun. The two other caches that were discovered consisted of and IED trigger, eightAK-47 magazines, a bayonet, 100 AK-47 rounds, two full AK-47 magazines and a mortar sighting system. Also, during the operation a VBIED production site was discovered in the samearea. Three vehicles and miscellaneous parts were found that were in the process of being modified to be used as VBIEDs. Three suspected terrorists were detained during the operation. The contents of the cache and the VBIEDs were destroyed during a controlled detonation conducted by the explosive ordnance disposal team

10) Iran Linked Arms Trafficker Arrested


Baghdad, 30 March (AKI) - The Iraqi authorities have arrested a man they believe to be a major trafficker in arms, particularly bombs, coming from Iran, a US spokesman in Baghdad said on Friday. The man, whose identity has not been released, was arrested in the mainly Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in the capital. He is accused of being a middle man between groups of Iraqi insurgents and the al-Quds battalion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. No arms were found in the house of the 58 year father of six, but police found large sums of cash, various laptop computers and two satellite phones. Earlier this month, special Iraqi army units captured an alleged weapons smuggler during operations with coalition forces in the southern city of Basra. The suspect reportedly funneled weapons and improvised explosive devices for use in attacks against Iraqi and Coalition Forces.

11) Terrorists killed, weapons caches found and destroyed

http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2007/03/iraq_tal_afar_aftermath_and_di.asp Thousands of Al Qaeda fighters are said to have fled Baghdad for Diyala, and the Islamic State of Iraq has made Baquba its capital. Al Qaeda has been conducting a terror campaign to cow the local population and keep the tribes from supporting the government. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been conducting a major clearing operation in Diyala against al Qaeda in Iraq and its Islamic State of Iraq political front. On March 28, 25 al Qaeda were killed and 15 captured during raids in the Diyala River Valley. Eight weapons caches have been discovered and destroyed. Iraqi and Coalition forces have been busy over the past 48 hours interdicting insurgent and al Qaeda activites nation wide. Operations in Babil province, which is south of Baghdad, netted 38 suspected insurgents, five weapons caches and an IED. During nationwide operations against al Qaeda's network, Coalition Forces (or Task Force 145 - the hunter-killer teams assigned to disrupting al Qaeda networks) captured 19 suspects during raids in Karma, Haditha, Baghdad and Fallujah on March 28. Another 4 were killed and 15 captured during raids in Mosul, Baghdad, Fallujah and Haditha on March 29.

12) Iraqi Troops find Major Arms Caches in Hilla

Camp KALSU, Iraq – An Iraqi security force led operation executed a city wide weapons confiscation campaign March 27 in Hillah. The 2nd Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army Division soldiers and Hillah Iraqi Police worked together to conduct a cordon and search operation to confiscate unauthorized weapons, detain 14 insurgents, and secure bomb-making materials in Hillah and outlying areas.A military transition team from 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division assisted in command and control.The weapons that were confiscated included 124 AK-47 rifles, 15 various 7.62 rifles, fifteen pistols, one shotgun, 84 AK-47 ammunition magazines and 10 pistol magazines. Eighteen sticks of C-4 explosives were found and secured, and 14 insurgents were detained and are being held for questioning.
More than 700 Iraqi security force personnel took part in the operation.

13) Iraqi Police Train in Law and Human Rights Maj. Eric Verzola
4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
 A graduate of the Iraqi Police Sustainment Training program receives his diploma and shakes hands with Brig. Gen. Faris at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, March 24, 2007. U.S. Army courtesy photo.FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — The Iraqi Police Sustainment Training program on Forward Operating Base Kalsu graduated its second class March 24 as part of Babil and Karbala provinces' journey towards provincial Iraqi control. The Karbala police sent 35 officers and the Babil police sent 15. After 10 days of training in the art and science of police work, the graduates felt excited and honored to serve the people of Iraqi. "This was a good group of policemen who were willing to learn and were very excited about getting out there and doing their job," said Lonnie Webb, a native of Homerville, Ga., and member of the Homerville Police Department who assisted with the training."Like all law enforcement officers, training is the keystone to professionalism and training these Iraqi police officers during this program was effective," said Webb.The effectiveness of the Iraqi police is important in a province's journey to provincial Iraqi control, and the officers want their country to be secure."These men understand that doing their duties may call for the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for the safety and security of the province, and more importantly, the people of their respective provinces," said Col. Michael Garrett, commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division and native of Cleveland, Ohio."The unique part of the training in this program is that when possible, two different provinces train together; they see that although they are from different provinces, they are brothers-in-arms with their fellow Iraqi security forces of this country." "Another unique and important part of their training here was the addition of practical law, rule of law, and human rights as part of the training," said Garrett. "This is very important; it is the link between an arrest and conviction of criminals in these two provinces and everywhere that the rule of law prevails.""These graduates are true sons of Iraq and their respective provinces and the people of Iraq should be proud of their accomplishments during this program," added Garrett.In attendance at the graduation was the deputy police chief of Babil province, Brig. Gen. Faris, who provided remarks to the graduates."I thank Col. Garrett for this course which will help prepare our police to do their jobs more effectively," said Faris. "I am proud of them, their sacrifice and their willingness to serve their province and nation."

14) Tearful Iraqi Ballad Singer Unites Iraq After Winning Pan-Arab Idol http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/

Shada Hassoun, an Iraqi contestant in an Arab-world talent competition similar to American Idol has managed to unite her country like no government can. The telecast smashed an Iraqi telecommunications record as seven million phone customers sent SMS messages for her to win, compared to an average of no more than 150,000 texts a day, said an official at company Iraqna. Iraqis cheer as the results on a giant TV screen showed the winning of Shada Hassoon in the pan-Arab Star Academy reality show contest, in Arbil. Hassoon shot to stardom in her war-torn homeland on Saturday as a symbol of unity after winning an Arab version of "American Idol" in a glitzy Beirut final. Shada Hassoon won with 40.63% of the votes, whereas Marwa Binsaghir was second with 28.65%, and with Mohammad Qammah at 25.06% and Carlo Nakhle at 5.66% finishing fourth. Iraq's Shada Hassoon holds up her national flag after winning the pan-Arab Star Academy reality talent show and competition in Adma, north of Beirut, 30 March. Charismatic Iraqi singer Hassoon has shot to stardom in her war-torn homeland on as a symbol of unity after winning an Arab version of "American Idol" in a glitzy Beirut final. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

15) Bush Cites Upbeat Bloggers From Baghdad

Mar 28 04:31 PM US/Eastern By BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - To back up his point that pulling out of Iraq would be a disaster, President Bush has quoted opinions from the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top U.S. general in Iraq—and now, two bloggers from Baghdad. Bush made a surprising reference to the blogosphere during a spirited defense of his war strategy on Wednesday. The mention seemed even more unusual because the president didn't identify whom he was quoting, so he seemed to be leaning on anonymous commentary. "They have bloggers in Baghdad, just like we've got here," Bush told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Then he began to quote: "Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now. Our people want to see this effort succeed." His point was that Iraqi people are seeing signs of progress—and what better example of their unbridled expression than blogs. It turns out, the White House made clear hours later, that he was quoting two brothers, Mohammed and Omar Fadhil. They write an English- language blog from Baghdad called IraqTheModel.com. Both of them got to meet Bush in the Oval Office in 2004. In his speech, Bush was pulling select lines from an op-ed that the brothers wrote. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal on March 5. Blogs are Web sites that tend to be narrow in focus and directed at a niche audience. Most operate without editors and give instant reaction to the news. Their freewheeling, open nature makes them popular but also ripe for unverified statements. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the appearance of blog commentary in a presidential speech. It is just one more way, she said, to show that positive news is happening in Iraq. But in perspective, she said, the White House cites all kinds of sources. Among the others she mentioned in the same breath: reporting from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "What the president was doing was taking an opportunity to talk about what one person's expression is," she said. "But that doesn't mean that there aren't other people having the same expression. Certainly, nobody can deny what General Petraeus has been saying."

16) For Sadr, a Fracturing Militia Divides Helping U.S. in Iraq Now but Could Cause Harm Later By Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 29, 2007; A14

Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia is increasingly splintering as radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- now believed to be in Iran -- faces fresh challenges to his leadership, according to senior Pentagon and administration officials. In the near term, the deepening divides in Sadr's movement have contributed to a lull in fighting that is benefiting U.S. and Iraqi operations to secure Baghdad, where Shiite militia and death squads fomenting sectarian violence are considered the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, the officials said. Yet the group's fracturing in the long run could make it harder to defeat militarily and could also complicate political reconciliation, they said."It's much more difficult to go after small, violent splinter groups than if you can get one organization to come in from the cold and reconcile," said a senior Pentagon official. "You have to fight with more people and kill more people, and it's much harder to bring them over to our side. The bright side is that, at least for the near term, they are keeping kind of quiet."At least two Shiite rivals, with some internal support, have been jockeying to take over parts of Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army since he left for Iran earlier this year, officials say. Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, they said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf."It's clear that he does not control all the organization. There are splinter groups that don't answer and won't answer to him, particularly since he is in Tehran now," the senior Pentagon official said. While some officials think that Sadr -- who is the son of a famous ayatollah who was killed during Saddam Hussein's rule -- is in Tehran, others said he is in Qom, a center of religious learning with many ties to Iraqi clerics.Sadr had already cracked down against rivals within his militia last August, as it grew difficult to rein in some of his commanders, U.S. officials said. The Mahdi Army, which was estimated last year to have 20,000 to 60,000 members, had become a franchise operation with factions that were failing to comply with orders or to pass money up the lines to headquarters, the officials added.Last August, Sadr was specifically concerned about freelance fighting between some of his forces and other Shiite militias, notably the Badr Corps, and massive vengeance attacks against Sunnis for months after the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, U.S. officials said.In early August, Sadr purged undisciplined factional commanders not showing fealty, leaving the Mahdi Army smaller, tighter and more coherent, U.S. officials said. The streamlining was influenced in part by the Iranian government, which sought a unified front rather than a ragged array of militias fighting one another, the sources added.Soon after President Bush's January announcement that he would be sending more U.S. troops to help the Iraqi government regain control over Baghdad, Sadr ordered his forces to lie low and not engage in shootouts with the Badr Corps or other rivals -- in what U.S. officials think was an effort to preserve his movement. In a sign that such orders still carry weight within the militia, fighting has indeed diminished. Since then, however, lower-level Sadr commanders as well as former rivals who were purged last year have started to make ambitious plays to assume leadership of the Mahdi Army, U.S. officials said.Sadr's "absence weakens the perception of him, and perceptions make a difference," said Lt. Col. James Gavrilis, a counterinsurgency expert at the Pentagon.Divisions also are being exacerbated as elements of the Mahdi Army respond differently to the more aggressive U.S. and Iraqi military operations inside Baghdad."What has changed is their reaction to what we're doing," Gavrilis said. "If the senior council says 'Back off,' you may have area commanders saying, 'I don't agree with the policy.' They may say, 'We have to fight. We can't give in. We can't give up territory -- that shows we don't have control,' " he said. The U.S. military is attempting to track attacks by various factions but has not identified clear patterns, a military official said.

17) Al Anbar Tribes joining with US coalition to fight Al Qaeda


Since the start of the year, Al-Qaeda In Iraq has attempted 11 chlorine VBIEDs, 9 in Al-Anbar, 1 in Tadji, and one in Baghdad. Of those, 9 have detonated with varying degrees of success, and 2 were found and disabled in Ramadi. The most recent attacks were early this morning in downtown Falluja, outside the government center. Iraqi troops engaged two trucks just after 0630, causing both to explode just short of the base. Taken together, the string of chlorine bombings have killed 32 Iraqis and wounded over 600, most of them civilians. One US soldier was wounded in an attack on an Iraqi Police checkpoint, as well as possibly more today in Falluja. These attacks have overwhelmingly been targeted towards Iraqi forces, and the leaders and people of the tribes who have begun to oppose Al-Qaeda In Iraq. There are thirty-one major tribes int the Al-Anbar province. Of those thirty-one, twenty-five support the Anbar Awakening effort of the Anbar Salvation Council- the social and political gathering of sheiks and former insurgents who oppose terroism in Al-Anbar. Of the six remaining tribes, the Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and the Anbar Salvation Council are attempting to split two off from the Al-Qaeda umbrella organization Islamic State of Iraq. Those two tribes are the Al-bu Issa and the Al-Zuba'a. Both have started to fight against Al-Qaeda, and are beginning to pay for it dearly. One chlorine bomb detonated in the Al-bu Issa region of Falluja, as I wrote before, injuring 250 civilians. Thahir al-Dari is the sheik of the Al-Zuba'a tribe. His son, Harith Dhaher al-Dari was a military leader in the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades. The 1920 Revolutionary Brigades is a nationalist Sunni insurgent group that was formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Earlier this year, the group began to split- one splinter wanted to remain with Al-Qaeda, and the other wanted a break because of disagreements over methods and goals (including issues such as Al-Qaeda's frequent targeting of civilians). Since the rift began, members of the 1920's Brigades have been working with the Anbar Salvation Council (including fighting Al-Qaeda in defense of one of the council leaders), and reportably engaging in talks with the government and coalition forces. Harith al-Dari was killed by Al-Qaeda fighters near Abu Ghraib yesterday, along with a bodyguard. His father, the sheik, narrowly escaped. Salam al-Zuba'a is one of the deputy prime ministers of Iraq, from the Al-Zuba'a tribe. He narrowly escaped being assassinated in a car bomb attack on his mosque on March 23rd. The chief suspect in the bombing is one of his bodyguards- accused to be a member of an insurgent group friendly to Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Anbar Salvation Council. Two years ago, Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan tried to gather other tribes together to stand against Al-Qaeda. He was swiftly killed, and the leadership of the other tribes was dismantled. Al-Qaeda then filled the vacuum, and the insurgency became stronger. Al-Qaeda has tried at least four times to kill senior leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council with bombs or all-out assault, and has killed several leaders of insurgent groups that show signs of willingness to work with the Anbar Salvation Council or the Iraqi government. This time around, though, the situation is far more favorable to the sheiks than it was two years ago. First, the US military has finally begun to work with the tribes in a realistic fashion, paving the way for tribal militias to supplement the Iraqi Forces. Secondly, the Iraqi Forces themselves are far more numerous and better equipped than they were two years ago.

18) Many Parts Of Gen. McCaffrey's Report Paint A Positive Picture Gen. McCaffrey Describes Progress Throughout His Report And Leads Three Of Four Sections With Optimism: Gen. McCaffrey On "The Current Situation": "Since the arrival of General David Petraeus in command of Multi-National Force Iraq – the situation on the ground has clearly and measurably improved."  Gen. McCaffrey On "The Way Ahead": "In my judgment, we can still achieve our objective of: a stable Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, not producing weapons of mass destruction, and fully committed to a law-based government."  Gen. McCaffrey's "Summary": "We have brilliant military and civilian leadership on the ground in Iraq. General Dave Petraeus, LTG Ray Odierno, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have the country's treasure and combat power at their disposal. Our cause is just. The consequence of failure will be severe." Gen. McCaffrey Highlights Key Improvements In The U.S.-Iraqi Coalition Strategy In Iraq  Gen. McCaffrey: "The Maliki Government Has Given The Green Light To Prune Out Elements Of The Renegade Sadr Organization In Baghdad."  "More than 600+ rogue leaders have been harvested by US and Iraqi special operations forces with the explicit or tacit consent of the government. Sadr himself has fled to Iran and many of his key leaders have escaped to the safety of the Shia south. His fighting cadres were ordered to go to ground, hide their weapons, take down their check points, stop the terrible ethnic cleansing and terror tactics against the Sunni population, and ignore (not cooperate) with US and ISF forces." Gen. McCaffrey: "U.S. And Iraqi Forces Have Now Dramatically Changed Their Operational Scheme."  "More then 50+ Iraqi Police/Army and US Army Joint Security Stations (JSS) are now being emplaced across the city and extended into the suburbs. The pre-operation planning and rehearsals were superb. The presence of these joint military elements is now becoming ubiquitous across the urban areas. Although many of these small outposts have been attacked – none has yet been seriously jeopardized." Gen. McCaffrey Says The Iraqis Are Encouraged Gen. McCaffrey: "The Iraqi People Are Encouraged" As "Life Is Almost Immediately Springing Back In Many Parts Of The City."  "The murder rate has plummeted. IED attacks on US forces during their formerly vulnerable daily transits from huge US bases on the periphery of Baghdad are down – since these forces are now permanently based in their operational area." Gen. McCaffrey Says The Iraqis Are Committed To Securing Baghdad And Improving Their Police Force Gen. McCaffrey: "The Iraqis Have Finally Committed Credible Numbers Of Integrated Police And Army Units To The Battle Of Baghdad."  "The strength of IA, IP, and NP units has steadily gone up aided by clever monetary and troop leader incentives. The ISF formations are showing increased willingness to aggressively operate against insurgent/militia forces. Although there is continuing political interference by politicians of both the Iraqi Administration and legislators – this is clearly a serious urban security operation." Gen. McCaffrey: There Is Now "Sunni Tribal Opposition To The Al Qaeda-In-Iraq Terror Formations" And New Sunni Recruits To The Iraq's Police Force. "There is a real and growing ground swell of Sunni tribal opposition to the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq terror formations. (90% Iraqi.) This counter-Al Qaeda movement in Anbar Province was fostered by brilliant US Marine leadership. There is now unmistakable evidence that the western Sunni tribes are increasingly convinced that they blundered badly by sitting out the political process. They are also keenly aware of the fragility of the continued US military presence that stands between them and a vengeful and overwhelming Shia-Kurdish majority class – which was brutally treated by Saddam and his cruel regime. There is now active combat between Sunni tribal leadership and AQI terrorists. Of even greater importance, the Sunni tribes are now supplying their young men as drafts for the Iraqi Police." Gen. McCaffrey Says The Iraqi Security Forces Are Growing Gen. McCaffrey: "The Equipment And Resources For The Iraqi Security Forces Has Increased Dramatically" While "Maliki Has Pushed To Create A Larger Security Force."  "The ISF has planned 2007 expenditures of more than $7.3 billion. The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior are the only two of 27 Iraqi Ministries that have executed their budgets at 90% plus satisfactory rates. (General Petraeus is now putting US military liaison officers in ten additional civilian Ministries to jump start their budget process.) PM Maliki has pushed to create a larger security force of more than 100,000 Iraqi Army troops." Gen. McCaffrey Says There Is A "Sophisticated" Political Approach Gen. McCaffrey: "There Is A Very Sophisticated And Carefully Integrated Approach By The Iraqi Government And Coalition Actors To Defuse The Armed Violence From Internal Enemies And Bring People Into The Political Process." "Reconciliation of the internal warring elements in Iraq will be how we eventually win the war in Iraq – if it happens. … There are encouraging signs that the peace and participation message does resonate with many of the more moderate Sunni and Shia warring factions."

18) Iraqis move into outback to create new peace TV http://www.jordantimes.com/wed/news/news6.htm By Patrick Fort
Agence France-Presse BAQUBA — Courting death in the most dangerous country in the world, six Iraqis have abandoned their families to set up a radio and TV network to promote peace from a heavily guarded desert outpost.Their antenna rising 350 metres out of the middle of nowhere next to buildings protected by American and Iraqi soldiers, the six-member team gushes fervent hope about how their message of cohabitation can quell the sectarian killing fields. Nevertheless most of the original line-up has already quit, overcome by fear of working for the media in a country where 155 industry workers, 95 per cent of them Iraqi, have perished in the four years since the US-led invasion."I received threats. They say 'stop doing this job'. But I believe in this job, I can't quit," said Samir Khamis, a 28-year-old Sunni Arab and one of the co-founders of the Independent Radio and Television Network (IRTN).Officially inaugurated this week, yet operational for several months, the flagship studio lies a short drive outside Baqouba, the capital of the violent province of Diyala and rife with myriad Shiite and Sunni extremist groups."I call my family but I haven't seen them in five months. I ask God to save them and make them safe. We work 14 hours a day, from eight in the morning until 10 at night," said Samir, convinced the slog will eventually pay off. And the sacrifices are hefty. Deprived of their loved ones, living conditions are tough. The network lacks basics such as running water. What they have in abundance are US and Iraqi soldiers."We are very secure. We are in the desert but we have everything to broadcast and to live. It is time where we have to try to stop the violence," said Samir a news reader. Aged just 20, beautiful brunette Donia Abdul Latif is presenter, DJ, editor and producer rolled into one, bringing a youthful ideological fervency to the job and declaring that her dream is to help Iraqis and help them unify."I am trying to help Iraqis get freedom. Freedom is not to fight or to kill someone. Freedom is to speak freely, to be free in the society, to get dressed the way you want, to do what you want," said the blue-eyed girl.She also wants to defend women's rights from growing Islamic conservatism. Donia says her Shiite and Sunni parents are supportive, even if they did try to dissuade her from working for TV for security reasons."This job is very dangerous for us. It is dangerous to talk freely. But if I am scared and everyone is scared then who will help Iraq? Nobody." Staff are promoting IRTN as the only independent homegrown media. "There are no independent media in Iraq. We need to unify our people," says Samir.Despite their independence claims, the news station is guarded round-the-clock by American and Iraqi troops. The United States has also put up most of the network's provisional budget of between $150,000 and $200,000 for 2007.Other benefactors are the Iraqi government, which has been accused of actively participating in Shiite-Sunni sectarian warfare, and the province of Diyala, north of Baghdad. Americans provide logistical support and buy space for public awareness campaigns.Besides current donations, the giant antenna they are using was actually built on the orders of former president Saddam Hussein in 1986.Samir is adamant Uncle Sam has not morphed into Big Brother: "The Americans are here just for protection. But they don't control our message. They don't want to control." "Some of us may die. That may be the cost of freedom. But let us not be so afraid of dying that we forget how to live... Courage always runs one step faster than fear," said Shiite co-founder Rafed Mahmoud."I was never free under Saddam Hussein. Now the terrorists, insurgents and death squads want me to live in fear again. I will not," he added. The network may want to broadcast messages of peace and unity in a bid to overcome sectarian warfare that has left tens of thousands dead since American troops invaded in 2003, but the vast majority of staff have already quit.Fifty-five people were part of the original line-up: Only six remain. It seems extremists across the board took issue with their message of peace and love, coercing the others through fear or intimidation to quit.Paul McKellips, a consultant behind the project who is paid by the US administration, said IRTN was trying to diversify its revenue and broadcasters and was even looking into how to do e-commerce."These folks are heroes. We have to help them," he said

19) U.S. military foils insurgent attack  Tue Mar 27, 3:53 PM ET U.S. soldiers foiled two suicide truck bombings against their base in a small town west of Baghdad and killed as many as 15 attackers, the U.S. military reported Tuesday.The attacks began when a water truck tried to drive into the base just north of Karmah, a town not far from the city of Fallujah, at about 2 p.m. Monday. A soldier opened fire and the truck bomb exploded.The military said 30 insurgents responded with small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Five minutes into the firefight, a dump truck following the same path as the exploded water truck tried to smash into the base but the driver was shot and the load of explosives blew up.The military estimated it killed 15 insurgents in the fight and said eight soldiers were wounded. Seven of the wounded returned to duty after treatment by medics at the site. One soldier was hospitalized.

20) U.S. commander: No civil war in Iraq www.cnn.com

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq isn't engulfed in a civil war, and there are signs of hope outside strife-torn Baghdad, the new leader of U.S. Central Command says.But the country needs "more pervasive security" -- as well as a more efficient and responsive government -- before the United States starts withdrawing troops, says Adm. William J. Fallon, whose command is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and covers the Middle East, central Asia and eastern Africa.Fallon, interviewed by CNN's Kyra Phillips, stresses that security in Iraq is clearly the biggest challenge for the nascent government and the U.S.-led coalition.Fallon says there can be no Iraqi confidence in the new governmental system without strides in keeping the peace. If law and order can't be implemented, he says, "we're not going to be able to get there."Fallon echoes the view articulated earlier this month by his commander on the ground in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus."As citizens feel safer, conditions will be set for the resumption and improvement of basic services," which are necessary for stability, Petraeus said March 8.Fallon says he doesn't expect U.S. troops to be mired down in Iraq for decades. And he doesn't foresee the development of a government that is a "mirror image" of the U.S. political system. (Watch commander on when U.S. troops might come homeVideo)The admiral, who replaced Gen. John Abizaid on March 16, says Iraqis desperately want peace, a fact borne out by many informal discussions with citizens when he walked along Iraqi streets Monday."All they said was they want more security. They want to get out on the streets and do things," he says.But they have to want it enough "to do everything they can to help us identify those who don't abide by rules of justice." (Watch why Fallon finds security to be top challengeVideo)Fallon says he doesn't think Iraq is in a civil war.A Pentagon report this month said some elements of the Iraq conflict fit the definition of civil war, but the term "does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict."He says there are places in Iraq that aren't besieged by violence and are, in contrast to Baghdad, booming and prosperous -- such as Irbil in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq -- and there are other areas that are relatively quiet.He says that reconstruction strides are successful in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, and places such as Falluja, where he says 200,000 people have returned after fighting subsided during the past few years.He characterizes the Iraqi conflict as being driven by "small factions fighting each other.""There are killers still on the loose in this country. I think it's a very small percentage of the population, and the idea that this whole country is at war with one another is absolutely not true. There are zealots here that will stop at nothing," he says.The Pentagon report said warfare in Iraq has morphed from a "predominantly Sunni-led insurgency against foreign occupation to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organized criminal activity."The war has been characterized by fighting between the majority Shiite Muslim sect and the minority Sunni Muslims, who were in power under Saddam Hussein's regime.On Iran's role in Iraq, Fallon says the Shiite nation is backing Iraq's Shiite militias.When he was asked, "What are you going to do about Iran?" Fallon says, "The question is what is Iran going to do about its behavior." (Watch Fallon explain how Iran is "unhelpful"Video)

21) U.S. says caught Iraq car bombers blamed for 900 dead

Tue Mar 27, 2007 http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=topNews&storyid=2007-03-27T171106Z_01_YAT724629_RTRUKOT_0_TEXT0.xml&WTmodLoc=NewsArt-L1-RelatedNews-1

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces captured two leaders of a major car bomb cell responsible for attacks that killed around 900 Iraqis, mostly in the Shi'ite district of Sadr City in Baghdad, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.It said in two separate statements that the two men were caught during operations in Adhamiya, a mainly Sunni Arab area in northern Baghdad, on March 21."It is estimated that since November, the car bombs from this cell have killed approximately 900 innocent Iraqi citizens," one of the statements said.It said another 1,950 had been wounded.U.S. and Iraqi forces are engaged in a major security crackdown in Baghdad aimed at stopping sectarian violence that has been killing hundreds of people a week in recent months.American commanders have said the crackdown has succeeded in substantially reducing the number of people killed by sectarian death squads, but car bombs and other bombings have remained a problem and U.S. forces have stepped up efforts to disrupt insurgent cells responsible for them.U.S. military spokesman Major Steven Lamb said the two men were part of the same cell but he had no information on whether they were linked to al Qaeda or another insurgent group.The Iraqi government and American commanders say al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgent groups are responsible for most of the major car bomb attacks in Baghdad.The first of the two suspects was captured when U.S. forces noticed his vehicle weaving in and out of traffic and his driver ignored signals to stop.The second was detained around seven hours later after U.S. forces received "actionable intelligence" that led them to stop a passing vehicle, the statement said.

22) Saudi Terrorists killed in Iraq by Anbar Tribal Militias


Baghdad, 26 March (AKI) - Four alleged Saudi terrorists belonging to the Iraqi al-Qaeda organisation were killed in recent days during violent clashes with tribal militias in the Sunni province of al-Anbar. Sources of the so-called al-Anbar Salvation Council - a coalition of tribes opposing the Islamic State in the restive western province - have told the Saudi newspaper al-Watan that they had killed at least 70 members of the terrorist group in the past two weeks, including many Arab foreigners. The inhabitants of al-Hamadiya village recounted that they had seen fierce fighting and had found various bodies in the area including those of the four Saudis. One of them, whom the council sources identified as Abdullah Abu Abdel Rahman, had arrived in the area three months earlier and was considered a reference point for young people combatting American troops in Iraq. According to Arab newspaper al-Hayat the "1920 Brigades" another insurgent group, is also fighting alongside the tribal militias of al-Anbar against al-Qaeda fighters and together they have managed to drive them back from the area around Abu Ghreib.

23) Major terrorist leader captured west of Baghdad


Ahmed Farhan Hassan has been captured. This operative is described as a senior aide to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi the leader of al-Qaeda’s so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That would make him a reasonably big fish, one from which, it would seem, good intelligence can be extracted.

Local Iraqi TV aired recorded confessions of Ahmed Farhan Hassan. Hassan, who was captured in Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad a few days ago, spoke about his connection to al-Baghdadai, and I’m paraphrasing: “I have four emirs operating under my command. I receive money directly from Abu Omar and then I distribute it among the members of my units according to the number and size of operations they carry out.”Quoting Iraqi military officials, the TV report added that Hassan admitted to have been responsible for some 300 murders and about 200 kidnapping incidents since he joined al-Qaeda three years ago.Overall, the security operation continues to gain more support among the political parties, including some that were skeptical in the beginning out of fear the operation would not be impartial. Today a spokesman of the Accord Front, to which VP Hashimi and deputy PM Zobaie belong, affirmed the AF’s support for the ongoing operation saying, “Our bloc, seeing the security forces covering Baghdad’s districts and operating without discrimination, is now convinced that the operation is unbiased.” On the other hand extremist parties of both sects continue their criticism of the operation, in stupid and somewhat amusing ways. One case I found funny is related to the recent discovery of a large weapon cache that included 470 anti-tank land-mines in Jameela district near Sadr city. The discovery of the stash was reported by MNF-I website, as well as Qasim Ata the official spokesman of Baghdad operations.

24) Insurgents report a split with Al Qaeda in Iraq

The U.S. hopes to take advantage of the Sunni rebel schism, which has resulted in combat in some areas. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-insurgents27mar27,0,7601497,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines

By Ned Parker Times Staff Writer March 27, 2007
BAGHDAD — Insurgent leaders and Sunni Arab politicians say divisions between insurgent groups and Al Qaeda in Iraq have widened and have led to combat in some areas of the country, a schism that U.S. officials hope to exploit.The Sunni Arab insurgent leaders said they disagreed with the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq over tactics, including attacks on civilians, as well as over command of the movement.U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, on his last day in Iraq, said Monday that American officials were actively pursuing negotiations with the Sunni factions in an effort to further isolate Al Qaeda."Iraqis are uniting against Al Qaeda," Khalilzad said. "Coalition commanders have been able to engage some insurgents to explore ways to collaborate in fighting the terrorists."Insurgent leaders from two of the prominent groups fighting U.S. troops said the divisions between their forces and Al Qaeda were serious. They have led to skirmishes in Al Anbar province, in western Iraq, and have stopped short of combat in Diyala, east of Baghdad, they said in interviews with the Los Angeles Times.Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has taken responsibility for many of the most brutal attacks on civilians here, is made up primarily of foreign fighters. Although it shares a name with Osama bin Laden's group, it is unclear how much the two coordinate their activities.The General Command of the Iraqi Armed Forces, a small Baath Party insurgent faction, told the Los Angeles Times it had split with Al Qaeda in Iraq in September, after the assassination of two of its members in Al Anbar.
"Al Qaeda killed two of our best members, the Gen. Mohammed and Gen. Saab, in Ramadi, so we took revenge and now we fight Al Qaeda," said the group's spokesman, who called himself Abu Marwan.In Diyala, the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a coalition of Islamists and former Baath Party military officers, is on the verge of cutting ties with Al Qaeda."In the past, we agreed in terms of the goal of resisting the occupation and expelling the occupation. We have some disagreements with Qaeda, especially about targeting civilians, places of worship, state civilian institutions and services," said a fighter with the brigade who identified himself with a nom de guerre, Haj Mahmoud abu Bakr.
"Now we reached a dead end and we disavow what Qaeda is doing. But until now, we haven't thought about fighting with them," he added. "We are counseling them, and in case they continue, we will cut off the aid and the logistical and intelligence support."Shiite Muslim government officials said the Iraqi government was talking to insurgents both about fighting the radical movement and reaching a truce.The government has proposed a trial cease-fire period to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, the Islamic Army in Iraq and other factions in western Baghdad. In return, the Iraqi government would mount a major reconstruction drive in battle-scarred Sunni areas, a senior member of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party said.A rupture between Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents could prove a significant break for the Iraqi government and the Americans. But there are many potential drawbacks. Sunni politicians describe the fighting against Al Qaeda in Iraq as localized and emphasize that in some areas the various movements exist in harmony.The Iraqi factions are also believed to engage in turf wars that could sabotage any concerted effort against Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni politicians said.The insurgents prefer to negotiate with the Americans and to bypass the Shiite-led government, which Sunni Arabs deeply distrust.Khalilzad heralded the developing rift between insurgent groups and Al Qaeda in Iraq as "the key issue of the current period."
He said insurgents were "in touch with the government seeking reconciliation and cooperation" in both the conflict with Al Qaeda in Iraq and reconciliation with Maliki's government.Khalilzad acknowledged that he had met with insurgent groups last spring to try to draw them into the political process, but had barred followers of Al Qaeda in Iraq from his plans.Three Sunni politicians, most of them with contacts in the Sunni insurgency, said insurgent groups were struggling over domestic issues, even as Al Qaeda in Iraq pursued an international agenda."All Iraqi resistance groups are in real dissension with Al Qaeda network in Iraq," said Khalaf Ayan, a member of the Sunni Tawafiq bloc in parliament."Al Qaeda is pursuing a different agenda — an international one and not an Iraqi" agenda, he said. "Al Qaeda should join Iraqis and not the opposite. What happened is that Al Qaeda had targeted leaders of many Iraqi groups. That is why the resistance is in big conflict with Al Qaeda and is fighting against it."The U.S. military had reported tension between Al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgent groups in 2005. But the movement, then under the leadership of Abu Musab Zarqawi, sought to repair relations through the establishment of a resistance umbrella association. Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June.In October, Al Qaeda and its Iraqi affiliates announced the establishment of an Islamic State of Iraq, but insurgents have spurned it, saying it was a ploy to take over the insurgency."The Islamic Army and 1920 Revolution Brigade are fighting Al Qaeda," said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni member of parliament. "Al Qaeda wants them to join Al Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq. They refused and this is why they are fighting now."Mutlak said that there had been heavy fighting in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and that unrest had also spread to Diyala in eastern Iraq.Iyad Samarrai, a Sunni member of parliament from the Iraqi Islamic Party, confirmed clashes in the last three months in the Abu Ghraib area and also in Taji, north of Baghdad.
But he said the Islamic Army and 1920 Revolution Brigade were coexisting with Al Qaeda in Iraq in other areas.Samarrai explained that the spate of violence stemmed from the refusal by the 1920 Revolution Brigade and the Islamic Army to rule out negotiations with the Americans after Sunni politicians were elected to parliament in December 2005."When those resistance groups decided it was time to review their strategy and consider the possibility of negotiating with the Americans and being part of the political process, Al Qaeda refused this and made attacks against them," Samarrai said.Shiite government officials, meanwhile, said their talks on fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, which were taking place as part of larger discussions on a peace deal, were facing difficulties, including the fragmentation of some insurgent organizations.Another hurdle is the insistence by insurgent groups to go back to "square one, to rewrite the constitution from the beginning, to have elections from the beginning," said Shiite Haider Abadi, a member of parliament from Maliki's Dawa Party. He confirmed that the talks included the 1920 Revolution Brigade, the Islamic Army and at least five other groups.

25) General: U.S. captures car bomb ringleaders

By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

BAGHDAD — U.S. forces have arrested the leaders of one of the deadliest car-bomb-making networks in Baghdad, a military spokesman said.After months of intelligence gathering, U.S. troops captured the ringleader of the Rusafa car bomb network and three of his lieutenants on Wednesday, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said in an interview Saturday with USA TODAY.The group, named after the area in Baghdad where it operated, has been linked to at least 14 car bomb attacks since early February that claimed the lives of 265 Iraqis and wounded 650 others, Caldwell said. Among the attacks was a blast Feb. 3 that killed more than 100 people in a Shiite market in downtown Baghdad, he said."This car bomb network was a major one operating in Baghdad," said Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "They were responsible for ahorrific amount of civilian casualties."It was the biggest bust of car bombmakers since the start of the Baghdad security plan last month, Caldwell said. The plan seeks to restore order by simultaneously targeting Shiite death squads and Sunni insurgents who often use car bombs in Shiite areas to foment sectarian violence.While the number of sectarian killings in the capital linked to death squads has dropped since the start of the security plan, car bomb attacks have been harder to stop. They continue to blast through markets and checkpoints around Iraq, often targeting Shiite neighborhoods.On Saturday, a construction truck filled with explosives and bricks drove past a checkpoint and detonated next to a police station in southern Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, killing 33 police officers, the U.S. military said.Caldwell cautioned that car bomb rings such as the Rusafa operation often regroup quickly and launch more attacks."It doesn't mean we have completely stopped them," Caldwell said. "These organizations will regenerate themselves. But each time they do, they should be less effective, less capable."It is difficult to break up an entire network at once, said Toby Dodge, an Iraqi expert with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.Car bomb rings are often a collaboration between Islamic radicals and specially trained former members of Saddam Hussein's government, he said.Units are assigned different tasks, such as smuggling jihadists into Iraq, building bombs or choosing targets, Dodge said. "It's a fluid, multifaceted operation," he said. "The way these networks were created, you could hit one aspect of it but it's so flexible, it's hard to get the whole thing at once."However, the arrests may show that U.S. forces are making progress in information gathering, said Andrew Krepinevich, an analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments."This is significant to the extent that it indicates our intelligence about the enemy is improving. This war is driven by intelligence, not firepower," Krepinevich said."That's why providing security to the population and improving their lives is key. The people know who runs these car bomb operations. But they will only tell us if they want us to succeed in our efforts, and if they feel secure enough from retribution by the insurgents," Krepinevich said.The group's financing, movement of vehicles and transport of explosives all had trademarks of being part of the al-Qaeda network, Caldwell said, without providing further details.On Wednesday, U.S. forces arrested Haytham Kazim Abdallah Al-Shimari, alleged to be the group's ringleader, in Baghdad. Al-Shimari then led U.S. troops to three of his Rusafa associates, Caldwell said.That day, an anonymous tip into the coalition's national hotline led authorities to a tractor-trailer filled with explosives next to the Finance Ministry building in central Baghdad. Officials believe the vehicle, which was disarmed by explosives experts, was linked to the Rusafa group, Caldwell said.Caldwell would not say how many similar networks are believed to be operating in Baghdad.

1) Italian parliament votes to extend Afghan mission Mar 27, 2007, 20:39 GMT  Rome - Italy's Senate on Tuesday voted to extend the country's mission to Afghanistan, one month after Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned over a lack of support for his foreign policy.  The upper house of parliament voted 180-2 in favour of extending the mission, after opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi said his alliance would abstain from the vote. Italy has around 1,900 soldiers in Afghanistan. Opposition within the government's fragile multi-party coalition led Prodi to resign last month, though he was quickly reappointed. Prodi has a majority of only two votes in the Senate. But the Union of Christian Democrats, of Pier Fernando Casini, supported Prodi in Tuesday's vote, giving the government well over the 158 votes necessary. Italy's lower house of parliament three weeks ago also voted for the extension and continued financing of the Afghanistan mission. 

2) First Afghan action kills 122 http://www.lucianne.com/main2.asp?fcnt=331620&lcnt=331645&crank=1 KABUL A six-day Afghan military operation in the southern province of Helmand left at least 122 militants and 12 police dead, the Defence Ministry said. Another 27 militants and 20 police were wounded in the action, launched a day after the Afghan New Year’s Day on March 21.It cut an important Taliban supply route and destroyed militant strongholds, General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a ministry spokesman said. The operation, called Norozi (New Year), was the first of its kind by the fledgeling Afghan forces with Nato air support, but not ground troops.General Azimi added: “The importance for the operation is that it was the first independent operation by Afghan forces.” Taleban strongholds near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, were destroyed. Areas near Lashkar Gah have been in the control of the Taleban and drugs traffickers. (AFP)