Iraqi prime minister disavows raid, says timeline a matter of U.S. politics

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 25 October 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday raided Sadr City, the
stronghold of the Shiite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed the operation, saying
he had not been consulted and insisting "that it will not be repeated."

The defiant al-Maliki also slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic
representatives in Iraq for their Tuesday news conference, at which they
said Iraq needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said al-Maliki had agreed.

"I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one
has the right to impose a timetable on it," al-Maliki said at a news

The prime minister dismissed U.S. talk of timelines as driven by the
upcoming midterm elections in the United States.

"I am sure that this is not the official policy of the U.S. government, but
it is a result of the election campaign and we are not much concerned with
that," the prime minister said.

Tank cannons boomed out over the city five times in rapid succession
Wednesday afternoon, and U.S. F-16 jet fighters screamed low overhead as the
conflict in Sadr City continued into the day.

Mortar rounds were also launched at the fortified Green Zone where U.S.
forces are headquartered, although there was no immediate word on damage or
any casualties. U.S. jets and helicopter gunships fired back and heavy
clouds of black smoke could be seen rising from the area around Haifa
Street, just blocks from the Green Zone that houses the U.S. and British
embassies, police said.

At least four people were killed and 18 injured in the overnight fighting in
the overwhelmingly Shiite eastern district known as Sadr City, according to
Col. Khazim Abbas, a local police commander, and Qassim al-Suwaidi, director
of the area's Imam Ali Hospital.

The U.S. military said Iraqi army special forces, backed up by U.S.
advisers, carried out a raid to capture a "top illegal armed group commander
directing widespread death squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad," the
military said in a statement.

Al-Maliki, who is commander in chief of Iraq's army, heatedly denied he knew
anything about the raid:

"We will ask for clarification about what has happened in Sadr City. We will
review this issue with the multinational forces so that it will not be
repeated. ...The Iraqi government should be aware and part of any military
operation. Coordination is needed between Iraqi government and multinational

As the raid began, Iraqi forces were fired on and asked for American
airpower backup. The U.S. said it used "precision gunfire only to eliminate
the enemy threat," according to the military's statement.

The statement made no mention of casualties or whether the targeted death
squad leader was captured.

Crowds of Shiite men, some carrying pistols, swarmed onto the district's
streets, chanting, "America has insulted us."

"The evil powers of the American occupation forces have targeted innocents
in Sadr city this morning. They fired bombs at houses that killed innocent
women and children," Falah Hassan Shanshal, a lawmaker with the al-Sadr bloc
that controls 30 seats in the 275-seat parliament, said in an interview with
the government's al-Iraqiya television station.

"If there was an arrest operation, it should have been carried out by the
Iraqi authorities, and not like this where air cover is used as if we were
in a war zone," Shanshal said.

Shanshal claimed Iraqi officials contacted had denied knowing about the
operation and claimed cluster bombs had been dropped resulting in injuries,
including the loss of limbs, among civilians.

Those claims could not be verified and footage of bodies taken to a local
morgue were exclusively of men.

Up to now, U.S. and Iraqi forces have largely avoided the densely populated
al-Sadr slum, a grid of rutted streets and tumble-down housing that is home
to 2.5 million Shiites and under the control of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Reining in the Mahdi Army and militia's like is one of the thorniest
problems facing al-Maliki because his fragile Shiite-dominated government
derives much of its power from the al-Sadr and a second political power with
a powerful militia, the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq, or

Residents living near Sadr City said gun fire and air strikes began around
11:00 p.m. Tuesday night (2000 GMT) and continued for hours. The district on
Baghdad's eastern edge was sealed to outsiders Wednesday morning.

Groups of young men in black fatigues favored by the Mahdi Army, were seen
driving toward the area to join the fight.

Explosions and automatic weapons fire were heard above the noise of U.S.
helicopters circling overhead firing flares.

Streets were empty and shops closed, although it was still receiving
electricity from the national power grid, despite routine cuts to other
parts of the city.

In his comments, Al-Maliki also appealed to neighboring states to cease
meddling in Iraq's domestic affairs _ an apparent reference to Iran and
Syria which are accused by the U.S. and Iraqi officials of aiding Sunni and
Shiite armed groups.

He blamed foreign fighters in groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq and loyalists
of former dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party regime for driving the
current violence that takes the lives of around 40 Iraqis every day, and
possibly many more.

"I would like to state here that the root of the battle we are fighting in
Iraq and the root of the bloody cycle that we are undergoing is the presence
of terror organizations that have arrived in the country," al-Maliki said.

Al-Maliki has repeatedly pledged to deal with the militias but has resisted
issuing firm ultimatums or deadlines.

His most recent comments follow a news conference Tuesday by Gen. George
Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, and Khalilzad, who said Iraqi
leaders had agreed to set a timeline for achieving key political and
security goals, including reining in such groups.

Khalilzad revealed neither specific deadlines for achieving those goals nor
penalties for their failure to do so. Al-Maliki said no deadlines had been
put to his government, dismissing the U.S. talk of timelines as driven by
the upcoming U.S. midterm election.

"We are not much concerned with it," al-Maliki said.

As violence spiked in Baghdad and elsewhere, Casey said on Tuesday the he
would not hesitate to ask for more soldiers if he felt it necessary. He
said, however, he had not made a decision.

"Now, do we need more troops to do that? Maybe. And, as I've said all along,
if we do, I will ask for the troops I need, both coalition and Iraqis,"
Casey said.

The timeline plan outlined by Khalilzad Tuesday was believed to have grown
out of recent Washington meetings at which the Bush administration sought to
reshape its Iraq policy amid mounting U.S. deaths and declining domestic
support for the 44-month-old war. The plan was made public a day after White
House press secretary Tony Snow said U.S. was adjusting its Iraq strategy
but would not issue any ultimatums.

Khalilzad said al-Maliki had agreed to the timeline concept that called for
specific deadlines to be set by year's end. U.S. officials revealed neither
specific incentives for the Iraqis to implement the plan nor penalties for
their failure to do so.

October has been the deadliest month this year for American forces. The
military Tuesday announced the deaths of two more U.S. Marines, a sailor and
a soldier. Since the start of the war, 2,801 U.S. service members have died
in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count.

Also Wednesday, the military said it was continuing a search for a U.S. Army
translator missing after he was believed to have been kidnapped Monday night
in Baghdad. Troops had detained some suspects who "could possibly be
involved," said a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington.

Scattered violence continued elsewhere in the country, with six people
killed when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in Balad Ruz, about 60
kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Other mortar and bomb attacks in
the area injured several people but there were no other reported deaths.