Monday, August 21, 2006

Iraq II: Update on the Baghdad Security Sweep

The new Baghdad security sweep is just underway and is anticipated to last several months, but initial reports indicate it may have no more chance of succeeding than a June sweep that triggered a further increase in violence.
On Sunday alone, 20 people were killed and over 300 wounded when snipers opened fire on religious pilgrims walking to the Kadhimiya mosque. This despite the fact that U.S. and Iraqi officials had been planning security for the event for months.
Officials were trying to avoid the huge loss of life during the pilgrimage last year, when more than 950 died after rumors of a suicide bomber caused a stampede on a bridge packed with pilgrims.

Reports The New York Times:
[T]he security plan consisted of four “rings” to defend the mosque and pilgrims streaming toward it. The first perimeter, around the mosque itself, was made up of armed men from the Interior Ministry, which is tightly controlled by Shiites.

A second ring consisted of Defense Ministry and national police officers at checkpoints around the city, the spokesman said. Iraqi Army soldiers cruising city streets in Humvees made up the third layer of security, with American military helicopters and surveillance as the fourth.

But by early Sunday morning, rival groups were exchanging gunfire on Baghdad’s streets, officials and residents said, as processions of pilgrims, segregated by sex, ran into apartment blocs and under highway overpasses for cover.

Omar at Iraq the Model said the pilgrimage was a disaster waiting to happen and should have never been allowed.

Meanwhile, Oliver Poole of The Telegraph provides a first-hand account of the security sweep at the neighborhood level:
A week after the launch of the new campaign some of the most violent southern and western neighbourhoods were transformed into mini-prisons, sealed off with blast walls and concertina wire.

Inside these cordons, U.S. soldiers accompanied by Iraqi troops conducted house-to-house searches. Around 15,000 houses are to be searched in the Sunni insurgent centre of Dora alone. In the coming months Zafraniya, Adhamiya, Kadhimiya and Mansour, the most violent neighbourhoods, will all be searched.

In Dora, locals described how the troops poked inside cushions and dug in gardens for hidden weapons. "They were polite," one said, "but went through everything, even my wife's clothes. "They did not speak Arabic but had a machine on which they would type words and then a voice would say them in Arabic. I had never seen such a thing before."

Another, a former translator for a western firm, described how the Americans called for their commanding officer when they discovered he could speak English.

"He asked me for help to find the bad guys," he said. "I refused. I am not stupid. "Me and my family would be killed most horrifically if they learnt I helped the Americans but the officer was very sad.

"He said he understood but he also said, 'It is so difficult. We do not know where to look. All we want to do is help but we do not know who to target'."

This lack of assistance and detailed intelligence may - like an earlier Iraqi security push six weeks ago - doom the US mission to failure, even if restoring order is possible in a city where sectarian groups are now so polarised by mutual fear and hatred.

Not only are the locals proving unhelpful. The Shia-dominated government of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki criticised the US military last week when it tried to spread its security plan to the massive Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City, dominated by the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, which is blamed by Sunnis for most of the killing.

The blast walls were taken down and the searches halted even though Washington and London warn that Sadr is modelling his anti-western movement on Hizbollah. Sunnis said this climbdown was the latest evidence that their community is bearing the brunt of the operation.

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