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Monday, March 27, 2006

War by other means

Today in Iraq there were so many different killings the Google News had a hard time separating them. Was it the 30 that turned up beheaded north of Baghdad, the 30 blown up at a US/Iraqi Army base, the 12 handcuffed and blindfolded bodies found near Baghdad that registered the strongest reactions from politicians? No it was the 18 militia men killed by American soldiers at a mosque in the Ur district of Baghdad.

Lets go to Healing Iraq for a closest thing we have to an eyewitness description:
"American forces clashed with Mahdi army militiamen at the Ur district (Hayy Ur), west of Sadr city in Baghdad. It seems an American force attempted to raid a husseiniya in the area and was resisted by militiamen inside. Between 18 and 21 militiamen have been killed, and the Al-Mustafa Husseiniya was reported to be badly damaged in the ensuing firefight. I was on the phone with a colleague who lived there and he described it as a battlefield. Apache helicopters and jet fighters are still circling the area. Al-Iraqiya TV just aired some images from the husseiniya. 17 'guards' were killed. One of the corpses carried a Da'wa party (Iraq organisation) ID, and another carried an ID issued by the Islamic Conference of Iraqi Tribes."

Of course there are widely varying reports - see Iraq the Model and Hammorabi - but what's all the fuss about?

America and Iran are about to have landmark negotiations on the future of Iraq and each side is playing for the upper hand. Politically, the US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made a big fuss about reeling in the militias but singled out Sadr's Mehdi Army as the main problem and accused them of being Iranian-backed. So no surprise that the following day America decided to show its ability to strike at will against the militias by attacking Sadr's people in their mosque. Clearly America is trying to drive wedge between the Shia parties and militias before talking to Iran.

But the plan seems to have gone all pear-shaped. The whole of the Shia parties (mostly likely with an Iranian nod) got together and roundly condemned America for the attack and supported Sadr. Given that Sadr also has the general respect of the Sunni insurgency, America's tactics seem to be ending up with uniting the Iraqis and driving a wedge against themselves instead.


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