The Obama administration will not replace two US brigades (12,000 troops) that are departing Iraq. There are 140,000 US troops in that country, down from 160,000 in 2008 during the Bush troop escalation or “surge.” The two brigades will likely be brought out of al-Anbar Province and Baghdad. Al-Anbar, once one of the most violent places in Iraq (and the world) has seen attacks and deaths decline dramatically since the tribal Awakening Councils started taking US salaries to fight Salafi extremists (what the US calls ‘al-Qaeda’). Baghdad is also much less violent than in 2007, in large part because the Sunni Arab population has largely been ethnically cleansed from the capital, so that it seems to be 80% or 85% Shiite now. The 4,000 British troops stationed at the airport in Basra will also leave by the end of June, 2009.
The step will leave 128,000 US troops in Iraq through the December, 2009, parliamentary elections, when they will be needed to lock down the country and prevent car-bombings of polling stations. Those elections will be the last conducted under US auspices. By August, 2010, another 80,000 to 100,000 troops will be withdrawn, with all US soldiers and Marines scheduled to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.
The security challenges remaining in Iraq were demonstrated by the nine bombings over the weekend, including a major attack by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest at a police training facility in central Baghdad. That attack killed at least 32 and wounded 60. Among the dead were 8 police officials. It has all along been the goal of the Sunni Arab guerrillas to punish the new Iraqi police recruits as “collaborators” with the new Iraqi government and Washington. Despite large numbers of attacks on recruits and police, however, they have not prevented the establishment of a large, newly trained police force and army, which have begun performing better against the guerrillas in pitched battles.
The establishment of Sunni-majority elected provincial assemblies after the Jan. 31 provincial elections in Al-Anbar, Ninevah, Salahuddin and Diyala raises the question of whether Sunni Iraqis will begin channeling their energies into improving their provinces instead of supporting the guerrillas.
The potential for Sunni-Shiite reconciliation was attested to on Friday when nearly a million Shiites converged on the Askariya shrine or golden dome of Samarra to commemorate the death of Imam Hasan al-Askari, who is buried at the shrine. Samarra is a Sunni-majority city in the strongly Sunni province of Salahuddin, the site of many guerrilla attacks against US troops and those of the new Iraqi military. There was little violence associated with this pilgrimage. In February 2006, Sunni Arab guerrillas blew up the shrine of Samarra, setting off nearly two years of civil war.
Turkey will help train the Iraqi military, and will accept Iraqi cadets into its military academies. This step is ironic because the Iraqi officer corps after WW I was Ottoman-trained. After a century of Arab nationalism, Iraq’s military is again establishing close ties to Turkey. From Ankara’s point of view, having Iraqi officers educated in its military academies gives Turkey a chance to influence among the most important groups of future Iraqi leaders. In particular, Turkish military academies are stongly secular and hostile to religion.
Aljazeera English reports on the travails of poor Iraqi women laborers under the new regime:
Iraqi women are struggling to regain the rights they lost with the American occupation, which was marketed to the US public as a liberation of Iraqi women!
– A roadside bomb detonated in Ghazaliyah neighborhood in western Baghdad targeting a Sahwa patrol around 7:30 a.m. Three Sahwa members were wounded.
– A magnetic bomb detonated under a parliament employee’s car in Damascus intersection in downtown Baghdad around 7:40 a.m. Two people were wounded including the employee.
– A suicide bomber riding a motor- bike filled with explosives targeted a crowd of recruiters for police in front of the police academy in Palestine street around 10:30 a.m. At least 28 people were killed (including five policemen and three traffic policemen) and 57 others were wounded.
– Gunmen opened fire at two soldiers in Mithaq neighborhood in Mosul on Saturday night. The two soldiers who were killed, were going to buy some food stuff from the commercial shops near their military check point in the area.
– A gunman threw a grenade at a police patrol in Shareen market in downtown Mosul early morning. Two people were wounded including a policeman.
– Gunmen killed a young man in downtown Mosil around 8:30 p.m. The young man was a student at the technical institution in Mosul.
– Police found eight mass graves in the orchards of the Al-Bu Tumaa village of Khalis (about 10 miles north of Baquba). There were 25 dead bodies in those graves who were killed by the Qaida which was controlling Diyala province.’
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