At least 56 Killed in Sunni Arab Heartland;
Sadrists and the Problem of Shiite Militias in the South
Sunni Arab Iraq saw significance violence and tension on Friday, especially in Khan Bani Saad near Baquba and in Mosul and Ramadi.
In Khan Bani Saad, Diyala Province, a guerrilla force attacked a police unit. AP says, “Intense house-to-house fighting between insurgents and Iraqi police north of Baghdad killed 43 people, including 24 officers, the U.S. military said on Friday. U.S. troops later joined the fight, aiding in a counterattack that left 18 insurgents dead, the military said.” A civilian was also killed, so 44 persons died in this intensive warfare. The US not only diverted men to the fight there, but they in turn called in close air support. This battle sounds major for Iraq, where engagements tend to be hit and run and more limited.
So then 12 bodies (4 of them police) showed up dead in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to the far north of Baghdad. A radical Islamic group had already put out pamphlets Thursday night that they intended to kill police. Authorities in Mosul therefore imposed a ban on vehicle traffic on Friday, to cripple the guerrillas from using their favorite weapon, the car bomb.
Reuters then reports of Ramadi: “Gunmen attacked three U.S. military positions in the western city of Ramadi with rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and machinegun fire, police said. A Reuters reporter said U.S. helicopters flew over Ramadi and U.S. forces had sealed off entrances to the city . . .”
So Mosul was under a vehicle ban, Ramadi was sealed off from the world, and Baghdad (which was fairly quiet Friday) is under curfew.
Sunni Arab tribes in the north, many of them still loyal to Saddam Hussein, are bound and determined that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk not become part of the Kurdistan provincial confederacy.
Al-Hayat reports [Ar.] that radical Sunni fundamentalists destroyed the Shiite shrine of Shaikh Ismail south of Kirkuk on Friday.
Some hoped that Iraqi tribes, which often have both Sunni and Shiite members, might be a force for unity in the face of the sectarian violence of the militias and guerrilla groups. But al-Zaman in English is reporting that instead, the tribes themselves are being torn apart by faith-based infighting, and are also fighting other tribes of other ethnicities. Al-Zaman says, “Mixed tribes are present in several areas in Iraq, particularly in the small towns between Baghdad and Tikrit in the north. There are reports that the tribes have divided themselves on sectarian grounds and have began fighting each other, using rocket propelled grenades and mortars.”
AP reported that “Also yesterday, four people were killed and five wounded in an attack on a van carrying Shiites returning from the funeral of a relative in the holy city of Najaf, said a spokesman for the police.”
Baghdad was locked down on Friday as the US military continued its massive manhunt for a kidnapped US soldier. It conducted heavily armed raids into Shiite Sadr City in the northeast of the capital, risking provoking violence with the Mahdi Army militia that dominates that area. Young nationalist Shiite cleric and leader of the Mahdi Army, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, warned his followers not to allow themselves to be provoked by the US, and said that they should not engage American soldiers in combat.
Reuters reports that“Iraqi and U.S. forces entered an office of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad’s eastern Rusafa district on Friday during a hunt for a kidnapped U.S. soldier, the U.S. military said. Three suspects were detained.”
Shaikh Jaber al-Khafaji, a spokesman for Sayyid Muqtada in Kufa, on Friday denounced Sadrist members who disobeyed Muqtada and engaged in violence.
‘ “This disobedience to the leadership has divided us and earned us multiple enemies” . . . “If you do not obey, you will regret it. Indeed, I declare that you will be cursed. Sayid Muqtada Al Sadr is a blessing from God upon you and is your protector,” Khafaji told the large crowd in this Shiite area.’
Rogue Mahdi Army elements have engaged in violence in Diwaniyah and Amara in recent weeks.
Al-Zaman reports that another leader in the Sadr Movement, Ahmad Sharifi, revealed Friday that a committee set up by the Sadrist leader Sayyid Muqtada has begun the process of purging the Mahdi Army of death squad cells. They are chasing other such cells, which kill innocents. Sharifi charges that these cells are being funded by “factions” in the United Iraqi Alliance, the umbrella coalition in parliament for religious Shiite parties.
I take it that Sharifi is saying that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr Corps paramilitary is responsible for infiltrating such cells into the Mahdi Army. Sunni groups such as the Association for Muslim Scholars have in the past accused the Badr Corps, trained originally by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, with being behind death squad killings of Sunnis. If Sharif is making the allegation that Badr has cells inside the Mahdi Army and is using them to carry out death squad activity, it is a serious, though, I think, implausible allegation.
Sharifi went on to say that “There are signs of fighting between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps.” He said that the struggle between the Mahdi Army and Badr in Diwaniyah and Amara is not over yet, and that the embers of conflict are still burning beneath the ashes. He added, “There are parties inside the United Iraqi Alliance that wish to separate the Sadr Movement, which dominates the street, from its base.”