A string of market bombings, 100 or so dead Iraqis and a few Americans, seems to have become a daily average of the carnage in Baghdad, and across Iraq. Even in the midst of the mega-hyped 'security crackdown'.
The pressure to get results in the Iraq War and to first lower the number of US troops, and then begin bringing them home, is causing havoc for the Bush administration, with votes of opposition raised in Congress (a rare war time rebuke for any president), threats to limit further war funding by key Democrat and Republican senators, and more calls from President Bush and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, explaining to the Iraqi government that American "patience" is limited.
The US/Iraqi joint crackdown on the suburbs of Baghdad was hailed a success by the Iraqi president, only hours before another market bombing and an insurgent attack on a US outpost in the city's north, which left two American soldiers dead.
So where's the supposed Iraqi bogeyman Moqtada al-Sadr? Those who know aren't telling. But it does appear now that the leader of the Iraqi Shias most powerful militia forces did cross the border into Iran, ahead of the Baghdad security clamp-down. He wasn't alone.
This report from Iraqslogger quotes Iraqi newspapers saying that numerous key militia leaders and fighters have fled Iraq to lay low during the city wide sweeps by US and Iraqi troops. Not exactly an unexpected strategy when this very crackdown was sign-posted by Bush and senior US officials for weeks ago.
The Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, confirmed the rumors claiming that the Mahdi Army commanders have left the country to take refuge in Iran.
Az-Zaman today quoted Talabani who said that “many of the top leaders of the Mahdi Army have received orders to leave Iraq in order to facilitate the application of the security plan by the armed forces.” Talabani saw in the decision a sign that “Sadr is concerned about the stability of Iraq and the success of the security plan.”
But sources in the Sadr Current did not take too kindly to Talabani’s claims, especially his reference to the “military leaders” in the ranks of the Mahdi Army.
Nassar al-Rubai`i, the chairman of the Sadr parliamentary bloc, contested Talabani’s statements. A;-Rubai`i told Agence France Press: “I do not know where Talabani got his information from, we have no military leaders (in the Mahdi Army), we only have religious and cultural leaders.”
The Mahdi Army officials have often claimed that the “army” is in fact not a fighting force, but a political arm and an organization for popular mobilization. And with the rise of accusations to the effect that the Mahdi Army is taking part in the violence and sectarian cleansing, Sadrist officials affirmed that all those alleged actions are done by “outside elements” who falsely claim affiliation to the Mahdi Army.
On another front, the Baghdad Security Plan, or “operation rule of law”, as the government refers to it, is proceeding apace. Al-Mada (which is generally pro-government) reported on the status of the operation in its third day. The newspaper said that there has been a noticeable decrease in violent acts, and especially in the number of “anonymous bodies” appearing in the streets, which had become a daily occurrence in Baghdad.
Al-Mada quoted the Iraqi spokesman of the Security Plan who said that, in addition to the decrease in homicides, families that were forced out of their neighborhoods are starting to return to their homes.
Az-Zaman (international edition) explained the decrease in violence by the fact that the death squads have either left Baghdad, or are in hiding, waiting for the storm to pass...
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