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US, Iraqi Forces To Launch New Baghdad Offensive January 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, World News.
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BAGHDAD (AP)–Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops will begin a neighborhood-by-neighborhood assault on militants in the capital this weekend as a first step in the new White House strategy to wipe out Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads, key advisers to the prime minister said Friday.

The first details of the new plan – a fresh bid to pacify the capital – emerged a day after U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke for nearly two hours by video conference. Both leaders were expected to detail their vision of a new strategy in the coming days.

Al-Maliki’s aides wouldn’t address the scope of the planned new assaults nor where specifically they were planned.

The Iraqis did, however, signal continuing disagreement on key issues, including al-Maliki’s unease over the introduction of more U.S. troops.

The Iraqi leader has repeatedly refused U.S. demands to crush the militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the prime minister’s most powerful backers.

Any serious drive to curb the extreme chaos and violence in the capital would put not only American forces but al-Maliki’s Iraqi army in direct confrontation with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The militants are gaining more and more ground as they kill Sunni residents of the city and drive others from their neighborhoods in an explosion of vengeance that began after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing by al-Qaida in Iraqi militants on the important Shiite shrine, the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, north of the capital.

Sami al-Askari, an al-Maliki political adviser, told The Associated Press on Friday that al-Maliki hadn’t acquiesced to the reported White House plan to send as many as 9,000 more U.S. troops to Baghdad alone.

“President Bush told the prime minister he was ready to send additional troops, but al-Maliki said he would have to talk that over with his senior military officers to see if they were needed,” al-Askari said.

Bush reportedly wants to increase troop strength as part of his developing plan to shake-up the U.S. military effort in Iraq, now in its fourth year.

Al-Maliki also continued to press for a rapid U.S. withdrawal from the capital to bases “on the outskirts of Baghdad,” al-Askari said. The prime minister has claimed his forces will be ready to assume security control of the whole country by summer. The Americans, perhaps optimistically, hope that can happen by year’s end.

Al-Askari and Hassan al-Suneid, another top al-Maliki aide and lawmaker from his Dawa Party, said the fresh security push would be open-ended once initiated this weekend.

“The Iraqi Interior, Defense and national Security ministries will take part using information we have gathered from a new intelligence network,” al-Suneid said. “There will be no time limit, and there will be many stages to the operation.”

Al-Suneid said U.S. forces would take part in a supporting role.

As forces apparently began forming, the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars voiced Sunni agitation and claimed the coming drive was really a joint operation by Interior Ministry commandos, the Iraqi army and the Mahdi Army to further cleanse mixed neighborhoods. Iraq’s security forces are dominated by Shiites.

Sheik Mohammed Bashar al-Fayadh, a spokesman for the organization, claimed residents had seen 150 vehicles massing Friday in the Shula region in northwest Baghdad in advance of the assault.

“We fear a huge attack,” al-Fayadh said on Al-Jazeera satellite television.

Throughout Iraq on Friday, at least 29 people died violently or were found dead, including two beheaded victims of the sectarian slaughter found floating in the Tigris river.

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