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Iraq: Government Making Progress On Security

Al-Maliki (left) greets U.S. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad on October 5 (epa) PRAGUE, October 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced the signing of a new peace initiative on October 2 amid reports of increased tension among parties in his national unity government. Relations between Sunni and Shi'ite Arab parties have been on a downward spiral for weeks, brought on by increasing distrust on the political front --> and continued sectarian violence.

The new initiative, which includes a pledge by parties to work to stop
bloodshed, had some observers questioning whether the government was
getting serious on security or simply paying lip service to the
problems. Recent developments give reason to believe that the
government actually may be making progress.

The announcement follows the launch of two major security initiatives
last week in Iraq. The first, initiated by tribal leaders in the
Al-Anbar Governorate and backed by Baghdad, seeks to confront Al-Qaeda
fighters operating in the western region. The second, a joint operation
by Iraqi and British forces, seeks to rein in militias operating in the
southern governorate of Al-Basrah. Both operations, which are both
expected to last several months, appear to be making slow and steady

National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters at a
Baghdad press briefing on October 1 that Al-Qaeda in Iraq was in its
last throes. He said the organization's leader, Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir
(aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri), is trying to win back the support of Al-Anbar
chieftains now that the "noose is being tightened on him."

Al-Rubay'i pledged that the terrorist leader's fate would be the same
as that of previous Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who
U.S. forces killed in June. That
statement elicited a terse response from Al-Qaeda, which said in an
October 4 Internet statement that it is increasing in strength every

The statement also claimed that the United States and Iraq are carrying
out a deceptive media campaign. "Where is the media coverage of the
heroic operations in Mosul, Al-Anbar, Diyala, and south of Baghdad? The
truth is that we can get to [U.S. and Iraqi forces] and they can't get
to us," it claimed. "We attack them and they cannot attack us." In an
apparent reference to al-Muhajir, it added, "The Al-Qaeda Organization
in Iraq is not one single man, rather it is a multitude of men; some
have died, others are waiting their turn."

Interior, Defense Ministries Crack Down

Al-Maliki's October 2 announcement was followed by two major operations
by the Interior and Defense ministries to crack down on rogue elements
operating under the cover of police and army units.

The army arrested 251 people in a weeklong operation in the Diyala
Governorate led by Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Ubaydi and army
Chief of Staff Babakr Zebari. The operation, dubbed Swift Response, was
launched after complaints from local residents over the conduct of the
army's 5th Battalion and its commander, Brigadier General Shakir
al-Ka'bi, parliamentarian Muhammad al-Dayini told Al-Jazeera television
on October 4.

"Unfortunately, since he assumed his duties, the security situation has
been getting worse," al-Dayini said of al-Ka'bi. Al-Dayini claimed the
battalion arrested "400 innocent civilians" in the governorate.

"The arrest campaign was coupled by the systematic theft of money,
properties, and gold, not to mention that those arrested were torture, beatings, and humiliation," he added. U.S. forces
have arrested three of the commander's guards on allegations they
belonged to death squads active in the governorate.

The government also suspended the 8th Brigade of the 2nd Division of
the national police, also known as the Falcon Brigade, and ordered it
to undergo retraining amid allegations that some members are linked to
death squads, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell
told reporters at an October 4 press briefing in Baghdad.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Khalaf
confirmed the move, saying that suspicions arose after the brigade,
which was based in northwest Baghdad, failed to respond to a mass
kidnapping in Baghdad's Al-Amal neighborhood on October 1. Interior
Minister Jawad al-Bulani reacted by removing the brigade and battalion
commanders from duty.

The brigade "will report to a forward operating base to reorganize and
begin, specifically, antimilitia, antisectarian-violence, and
national-unity training both at the unit level and at the individual
level. This brigade's past performance has not demonstrated the level
of professionalism sought by the [Interior Ministry]," Caldwell told
reporters. He said it is unclear how much commanders knew, "but there
is clear evidence that there was some complicity [by police] in
allowing death-squad elements to move freely when in fact they were
supposed to have been impeding their movement."

Rise In Casualty Figures

While the new initiatives offer hope that al-Maliki's administration is
making progress on the security front, Baghdad and other areas of the
country continue to face a steady stream of violence. That reality
prompted the Council of Representatives to extend the state of
emergency for another month despite objections by some lawmakers.

Indeed, violence in the capital continued at record levels this week,
with the Interior Ministry reporting on October 2 that some 67 bodies
were found on the streets of Baghdad over the preceding 30-hour period.
Many of the bodies bore signs of torture and most were killed by

Meanwhile, partial statistics released by the Interior Ministry this
week indicate as much as a 42 percent increase in the civilian death
toll from August to September. According to the ministry, some 1,089
civilians died in September, compared to 769 in August and 1,065 in

The number apparently does not include the unidentified bodies that
pass through the Baghdad morgue in a given month. The morgue has
reportedly been ordered to no longer release that data.

U.S. spokesman Caldwell told reporters at an October 4 press briefing
in Baghdad that although casualty numbers rose in September, they did
not increase in proportion to the number of attacks. "The overall
effectiveness of attacks, or the enemy's ability to inflict casualties
or cause damage has decreased and has been decreasing since the June
time period," he noted.

"Last week we also saw the highest number of vehicle-borne improvised
explosive devices this year that were both found and cleared, and those
that were detonated. The number of IEDs, or improvised explosive
devices, is also at an all-time high. But Iraqi security forces and
coalition forces continue to find and clear a portion of these
devices," Caldwell said.

What More Can Be Done?

With several initiatives under way across the country and al-Maliki
pressing forward with his reconciliation initiative, many observers are
left wondering what more can be done.

For one, more needs to be done to rein in militias. This week's
operations by the Interior and Defense ministries are cause for
optimism. While time remains a pressing factor in the struggle to bring
order to the country, realistically speaking, neither coalition forces
nor the Iraqi government have the capacity to break militias in one
fell swoop.

Militias can only be eliminated once several other factors are met: an
effective, nonsectarian army is formed; greater political harmony is
achieved through confidence-building measures by both Sunni and Shi'ite
parties; and funding networks and supply lines are cut.

But another factor could have a significant impact on the speed at
which the above is achieved: bringing Iraqis on board. While the
majority of the civilian population craves an end to violence and the
establishment of some sort of normalcy to their lives, there is a lack
of any real grassroots movement to end the violence plaguing the

Fears Of Ba'athist Return

For some Iraqis, there remains a disproportional fear of a Ba'athist
resurgence. Indeed, many Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds argue that should the
government fall, or coalition forces pull out, and civil war erupt, the
Ba'athists would regain power in a matter of weeks. This belief,
whether or not it is likely, is arguably the core reason why many are
afraid to fully and publicly back government efforts. Their desire to
protect themselves against an unclear future is that strong.

The fact that the former Ba'ath Party maintains a murky presence in
Iraq only intensifies such fears. Insurgent groups linked to the party
claim to be everywhere, their strength unclear, save for the numbers of
dead they leave behind in attacks, the victories they claim, and
threats they post in mosques, neighborhoods, and on the Internet.

At times, their presence is acutely felt. On September 30, a group
identifying itself as the Ba'ath Party-affiliated Dhi Qar Organization
claimed responsibility for the
the day before of the brother-in-law and nephew of Muhammad
al-Uraybi, the chief judge in the Anfal trial.

The trials against Saddam Hussein and former members of his regime
offer a continued reminder of the party as well. Though the trials may
not occupy the forefront of most Iraqis' thoughts, they are there in
the background, and in the daily media. While there is little doubt the
trials offer much-needed closure for the victims of Hussein's regime,
there is also little doubt that they serve as a continued reminder of
tyranny one group can inflict on a nation.

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Iraq In Transition

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