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Iraq: Pressure For Success Mounts Ahead Of Baghdad Offensive

Iraqi soldier at Baghdad checkpoint on February 8 (epa) February 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military announced the official opening on February 5 of the joint Iraqi-U.S. Baghdad operations command center in preparation for the massive security operation to take control of Baghdad. U.S. military officials described the operation as unlike anything the city has seen and expressed optimism that the violence in the Iraqi capital could be suppressed.

This will be the third attempt to take control Baghdad since Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki came to power in May 2006. Previous attempts failed because too few troops were used. Now, with the influx of 21,000 additional U.S. forces and three Iraqi Army brigades, in theory this operation seems to have adequate strength to succeed where the others failed. And pressure is mounting on the U.S. and Iraqi governments to ensure that it does.

Off To Inauspicious Start

While Iraqis wait for the start of the much-vaunted Baghdad security plan, al-Maliki acknowledged for the first time during a speech to military commanders on February 6 that the government had erred in its efforts to launch the operation, and the subsequent delays could help insurgents, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day.
"If this plan fails, the U.S. administration's scheme in Iraq will fail
as well. In addition, the whole Iraqi political
scheme will fall apart." -- Iraqi parliament speaker

"I feel that the delay of military operations has sent a negative message -- the opponents will say that the operations will fail from the very beginning," he said.

In fact, Al-Sadr City Mayor Rahim al-Darraji said the delay in the security plan was due to Iraqi forces being unprepared and that the operation would not be implemented for another 15 to 20 days, "The New York Times" reported on February 5.

After great fanfare from both al-Maliki and U.S. officials, the delay only strengthens the perception among Iraqis that the government and its security forces are incapable of stemming the violence and protecting its citizens.

Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani bluntly declared on February 7 that the plan was the last opportunity for Iraq and the United States to pacify the city, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day.

"If this plan fails, the U.S. administration's scheme in Iraq will fail as well," Mashhadani said. "In addition, the whole Iraqi political scheme will fall apart. If there is not serious and genuine public cooperation in this regard, the plan will be facing serious failure."

Impatience Expressed

Unprecedented violence has increased pressure on al-Maliki to show signs of progress regarding the Baghdad security plan that was announced more than a month ago. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced that 1,000 people were killed last week, AP reported on February 5.

Many Shi'a are feeling less secure without al-Sadr's militia in the streets (epa)

The most spectacular attack occurred on February 3 when a massive suicide truck bomb carrying 1 ton of explosives exploded in the predominantly Shi'ite Al-Sadriyah district, killing 130 people and wounding more than 300.

The bombing was widely described in the Arab and Western press as the single deadliest bombing since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and it underscored the severity of the security situation. The lack of quick results coupled with more brazen and deadly attacks creates an untenable political situation for al-Maliki and weakens his grip on power.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi brusquely said on February 2 that the government would lose what credibility it had left in the eyes of the Iraqi people if it continues to fail to curb the violence and protect innocent Iraqis, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported the same day.

"Things have become intolerable. We must reach the day when the Iraqis see no bloodshed, car bombs, or abductions," al-Hashimi said. "The government needs to prove its credibility and seriousness in implementing the general principles it announced today."

Militia Crackdown Leaves Security Void

The efforts by Iraqi and U.S. forces to crack down on Shi'ite militias, particularly Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam al-Mahdi Army, have created an inadvertent security vacuum in Shi'ite neighborhoods. Sunni and U.S. officials have long accused al-Sadr's militia of carrying out sectarian attacks and the crackdown was meant to quell sectarian violence. However, many Shi'a claim that the militia is an effective deterrent against Sunni insurgents.

Checkpoints and security stations usually manned by al-Sadr's militia have been dismantled and militiamen have either gone into hiding or have been arrested by U.S. forces. This has left a security void in Shi'ite neighborhoods, where insurgents have been emboldened to step up their attacks, as witnessed in the February 3 bombing in the Al-Sadriyah district.

An unidentified al-Sadr aide in Al-Najaf told "Al-Hayat" on February 7 that the crackdown and the ensuing lack of security has led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Shi'a. He added that the insurgents "exploited the [security] gap with the Americans' help and started to send the booby-trapped vehicles to the Shi'ite markets."

If attacks on the scale of the February 3 bombings continue, this could lead to reprisal attacks by Shi'ite militias. If the Baghdad operation fails to deliver soon enough, it could create a scenario where militias may need to be deployed to maintain security. A populace living in fear and feeling under siege may demand their return.

On The Verge Of Civil War

On The Verge Of Civil War

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)

HAS THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ BECOME A CIVIL WAR? Many observers have concluded that the tit-for-tat sectarian violence that emerged after the February 2006 bombing of a mosque in Samarra has become a full-blown civil war.... (more)


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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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