Attack On Sadr City Mayor Hinders Antimilitia Effort

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
March 16, 2007
Pg. 8

By Edward Wong and Damien Cave
BAGHDAD, March 15 — Gunmen ambushed a convoy on Thursday that was carrying the mayor of the sprawling Shiite area known as Sadr City, seriously wounding him and complicating American efforts to rein in a powerful Shiite militia there. The attack killed Lt. Col. Muhammad Motashar, the director of the Sadr City police station.
The mayor, Rahim al-Daraji, has led negotiations with the Americans over what to do about the militia, the Mahdi Army, which has rebelled twice against the Iraqi government and the American military.
He has lobbied the Americans to finance reconstruction projects that would bring jobs to his impoverished neighborhood, an approach American commanders say could help disarm the largely unemployed men in the Mahdi Army.
Mr. Daraji is a soft-spoken sheik whose office has been a regular stop for American military officers in Sadr City.
Early this month, American and Iraqi forces moved into Sadr City and have been trying to establish two garrisons there. Throughout Baghdad, American forces plan to operate out of 100 neighborhood garrisons in the next month as part of the new offensive to secure the city, the American commander in charge of Baghdad said Thursday.
Nearly 80 such garrisons are operating. The increase in outposts is part of the plan to put American troops back on the streets, living among Iraqis and making their presence felt, he said. Thousands of additional American troops are expected to enter the Baghdad area by May to bolster forces here.
“So far, the indicators are they’ll do real well,” the American commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., said of the garrisons. “But we do expect them to be challenged.”
The expansion of the garrisons is essentially a repudiation of the military policy of the last two years, in which American troops spent more time on bases and much less time patrolling or interacting with Iraqis. Critics of the White House and the American military say the emphasis on minimizing American casualties, called force protection, allowed Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to descend into sectarian bloodletting.
Now, American soldiers in the garrisons are expected to do what they did in 2003 — meet with Iraqi leaders to discuss social and economic issues, shake hands with residents and walk the markets.
General Fil acknowledged that the American soldiers would be at greater risk, but said they would be ready to defend themselves. The heightened American street presence may already have contributed to an increase in the percentage of American deaths that occur in Baghdad.
Over all, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq from hostilities since Feb. 14, the start of the new Baghdad security plan, fell to 66, from 87 in the previous four weeks.
But with more soldiers in the capital on patrol and in the neighborhood garrisons, a higher proportion of the American deaths have occurred in Baghdad — 36 percent after Feb. 14 compared with 24 percent in the previous four weeks. Also over the past four weeks, a higher proportion of military deaths from roadside bombs have occurred in Baghdad — 45 percent compared with 39 percent.
A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers and wounded two on Thursday as the soldiers returned from a search operation in eastern Baghdad, the military said. Ordnance experts at the scene found another bomb, a particularly deadly type called an explosively formed projectile, that had not been detonated, the military said.
Despite such attacks, many Iraqis, especially those in predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods, say they welcome the Americans in their streets.
Moderate Sunni Arabs say they have been targets of Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army and radical Sunni groups. Sunni neighborhoods in western Baghdad are increasingly the scene of fighting between moderate Sunni Arabs and hard-line Sunni militants, and the moderate Sunnis see the Americans as potential allies.
The American garrisons are of two kinds: joint security stations in which units of 120 to 150 troops operate with Iraqi forces, and combat outposts that serve as temporary forts. The joint security stations are expected to be permanent, perhaps transformed into Iraqi police stations.
General Fil said the American and Iraqi forces regularly based in Baghdad are being supplemented by nine Iraqi Army battalions from outside. Each battalion has 700 officers or soldiers, he said.
In the four weeks of the security plan, the kind of killings usually attributed to Shiite militias or death squads dropped by a third, General Fil said. Shiite militia commanders say Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric, has told his Mahdi militia to lie low for now. Suicide car bombs remain a problem, and American and Iraqi forces have made it a priority to root out car bomb factories, he added.
In the Green Zone, an Iraqi appeals court ruled Thursday that Saddam Hussein’s former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, is to be hanged in 30 days.
The decision, which is final, completes a reversal of fortune for Mr. Ramadan, who was sentenced last November to life in prison for his role in the killing of 148 men and boys from the Shiite town of Dujail in the 1980’s. A series of appeals increased the sentence to death.
When Mr. Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, was executed in December for the same killings, it stirred up discontent across the Middle East because he, a Sunni Arab, was subjected to sectarian taunts by Shiites at his hanging. Iraq’s judicial efforts took another macabre turn a month later when Mr. Hussein’s half brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was decapitated by the hangman’s noose after he dropped through the trapdoor.
In Mr. Ramadan’s case, international human rights groups have argued that the evidence of his role in the crimes does not justify a death sentence. But the nine-judge appeals panel ruled unanimously for execution, said Munir Hadat, one of the judges. He denied accusations that the ruling reflected a political effort by Iraq’s Shiite-led government to inflict extreme punishment on aides close to Mr. Hussein.
“The decision, it’s not political,” Mr. Hadat said at a news conference. “The judges, all of them, are independent.” Noting that Iraqi law required that executions be carried out within 30 days, he said the hanging could take place “at any moment.” An announcement about the execution, he said, would be made after it was completed.
Violence roiled central and northern Iraq on Thursday. A suicide car bomb at an Iraqi security checkpoint in downtown Baghdad killed at least eight soldiers and policemen and wounded at least 29 people, an Interior Ministry official said. A homemade bomb in Sadr City killed one person and wounded four others, and a car bomb in Yarmouk killed at least one Iraqi soldier and wounded two people. The police found 17 bodies across Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said.
A car bomb outside a factory in the area around Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, killed at least four workers on a bus and wounded at least 24. In Kifil, gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying the local police chief on Wednesday, injuring him and killing his driver, officials said Thursday. That prompted the police to arrest at least 44 Mahdi militiamen, and a Sadr-affiliated legislator in the national Parliament accused the police of burning a Sadr mosque in the area. A mortar round killed a civilian nearby in Hilla.
Near Tikrit, Mr. Hussein’s hometown, a senior policeman and his driver were killed late Wednesday. The police found the bodies of two women in the region on Thursday. In separate incidents on Thursday in Diyala Province, insurgents killed at least seven people and abducted at least four Iraqis. The body of an abducted policeman was found near a prison on Thursday. The American military said Thursday that a soldier was killed in combat in Anbar Province on Wednesday, and a Marine died there, also on Wednesday, in a noncombat incident. In Mosul, American forces accidentally killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded three others in a firefight with insurgents on Thursday, the military said.
Ahmad Fadam contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Baquba, Tikrit and Hilla.