Iraq PM Cracks Down on Shiite Militiamen
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Jan 11, 6:19 AM (ET)
By STEVEN R. HURST and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
(AP) Men embrace after collecting bodies of their four relatives killed when their house was destroyed ...
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's prime minister has told Shiite militiamen to surrender their weapons or face an all-out assault, part of a commitment U.S. President George W. Bush outlined to bring violence under control with a more aggressive Iraqi Army and 21,500 additional American troops.
Senior Iraqi officials said Wednesday that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, under pressure from the U.S., has agreed to crack down on the fighters even though they are loyal to his most powerful political ally, the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Previously, al-Maliki had resisted the move.
In a speech that was carried live at 5 a.m. on Iraqi state television, Bush laid out his new plan to quell violence in and around the Iraqi capital in a televised address to the nation Wednesday night. In earlier operations, the president said, "political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence.
"This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter those neighborhoods," Bush said. "Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."
Before Bush spoke, a senior Shiite legislator and close al-Maliki adviser said the prime minister had warned that no militias would be spared in the crackdown.
"The government has told the Sadrists: 'If we want to build a state we have no other choice but to attack armed groups,'" said the legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.
Bush warned that the U.S. expected al-Maliki to keep those promises.
"America's commitment is not open-ended," Bush said. "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people."
The Iraqi government welcomed the new strategy and promised it was committed to succeeding in quelling the violence.
(AP) An elderly woman is comforted in hospital in Samarra, Iraq, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of...
"The failure in Iraq will not only affect this country only, but the rest of the region and the world, including the United States," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to al-Maliki.
"The current situation is not acceptable - not only for the American people but also for the Iraqis and their government. As Iraqis and as an elected government we welcome the American commitment for success," he added. "The Iraqi government also is committed to succeed."
Al-Rikabi also stressed the importance of the Iraqis taking the lead.
"The American plan cannot succeed without us because we work in the same field in order to defeat violence and terrorism and boost the democratic system," he said.
Senior officials in radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's group said they will not comment on the speech until their political council meets later Thursday to discuss Bush's statements.
(AP) A man removes part of a destroyed gate at his home in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq, Thursday Jan. 11,...
Al-Maliki on Saturday announced that his government would implement a new security plan for Baghdad, which consists of neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweeps by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops.
Sunni lawmaker Hussein al-Falluji rejected the plan to increase the number of American troops and warned that it would only increase the violence.
"Bush's plan could be the last attempt to fix the chaos created after the invasion of Iraq. Yet, sending more troops will not end the problem, on the contrary, there will be more bloodshed," he said. "I think that the solution would be to set an objective timetable for the withdrawal of the American forces and start direct negotiations with the Iraqi resistance."
Shiite politician and former member of parliament Mariam al-Rayes noted Democratic opposition to the increase in troops.
"Some consider president Bush an adventurer," she told the state-run Iraqiya station. "But he has found that his role now is to support this government especially after the government asked for more support and authorities."
(AP) An Iraqi girl looks through the destroyed gate of her home in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq, Thursday...
In the past, the Iraqi government has tried to prevent American military operations against the Mahdi Army, while giving U.S. forces a free hand against Sunni militants. The Bush administration has pushed al-Maliki, who took office in May, to curb his militia allies or allow U.S. troops to do the job.
Although al-Maliki withdrew political protection from the Mahdi Army, there was no guarantee the Shiite fighters would be easily routed from the large and growing area of Baghdad under their control.
The militia has more fighters, weapons and sophistication today than it did in 2004, when it battled U.S. forces to a standstill in two strongholds, the Shiite holy city of Najaf and Sadr City, Baghdad's sprawling Shiite slum.
Sunni militants, meanwhile, have put up fierce resistance in the five days since al-Maliki announced his new security initiative for Baghdad.
Iraqi and U.S. troops have battled Sunni insurgents along Haifa Street in central Baghdad in two major battles.
(AP) Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a press conference in Sulaimaniyah,...
The neighborhood is only about 2 1/2 miles north of the Green Zone, site of the Iraqi government headquarters, the U.S. Embassy and base for thousands of American soldiers.
Eighty suspected insurgents were killed in the fighting - 50 of them on Tuesday alone, in an assault backed by U.S. troops, fighter jets and attack helicopters.
Bush said the U.S. will send 21,500 more troops - 17,500 of them to help pacify Baghdad,
The increase in troop levels was part of a larger military and economic effort intended to turn around a 3 1/2-year-old war that has cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars and more than 3,000 lives.
In preparation for the new security plan, the Iraqi military will bring two brigades from northern Iraq, a region largely populated by Kurds, and one from the south.
(AP) An Iraqi army Humvee blocks a street in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007. U.S. and...
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, many of them in the capital in the past year - after the war became a religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Sectarian violence began after the February bombing of a major Shiite shrine by al-Qaida in Iraq.
Al-Maliki has not commented on the Bush administration's plans to create a set of benchmarks to measure the Iraqi government's progress on improving security.
Washington wants the prime minister to come up with a plan to equitably share the country's oil wealth, ease restrictions on former Baath Party members and hold provincial elections - steps regarded as critically important to drawing Sunnis into the political process.
An Iraqi general, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the plan, said a mainly Kurdish force would be sent into the Sadr City slum in northeast Baghdad, which serves as headquarters of the Mahdi Army.
The general said Kurds, who are Sunni but not Arab, were being used against the Shiite militia because soldiers from other Iraqi units were likely to refuse to fight fellow Shiites. An estimated 80 percent of Iraq's army is Shiite.
Under the new security plan, the general said, U.S. and Iraqi troops will sweep Baghdad neighborhoods in an effort to dislodge the Mahdi Army, as well as Sunni extremists - including al-Qaida in Iraq and two of its allied groups, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and the Omar Brigade.
Iraqi and U.S. officials said Iraqi commanders will be put in charge of each of nine city districts. Each commander will operate independently of Iraqi military headquarters.
Al-Maliki has named Lt. Gen. Aboud Gambar, an Iraqi general who was taken prisoner of war by U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf war, as the overall commander.
Gambar, a Shiite, will have two assistants, one from the police and one from the army, Iraqi military officers said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information. Gambar will report directly to al-Maliki.
The Americans plan to put 400 to 600 U.S. soldiers in each district as a backup force, a senior Bush administration official said Wednesday. Others will be held in reserve throughout the capital to deploy quickly on the request of Iraqi commanders.
One senior U.S. official said al-Maliki agreed to stop protecting the Mahdi Army under pressure from both the U.S. and his fellow Iraqis. In a conference call with U.S. reporters, the official said the al-Maliki "plan will work" because it frees his military from political and sectarian influence.
The latest drive to pacify Baghdad is at least the fourth since the war began. All have had only limited success, with insurgents and militants swiftly returning to neighborhoods after U.S. and Iraqi military forces departed.
The U.S. military also announced that four more American soldiers had died Tuesday from combat wounds in Iraq.