Coalition forces have detained about 700 members of the Mahdi Army, the largest Shiite militia in Baghdad, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday. The militia, which is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has clashed with U.S. troops in the past, has mostly avoided a direct confrontation with American and Iraqi government forces, Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with USA TODAY. Some of the militia’s top leaders have left the capital, and Iraqi government officials are negotiating with al-Sadr’s political organization in an effort to disband the militia, Petraeus said. “I think in part one reason that al-Sadr’s militia has been lying low … is due to some of the discussions being held,” Petraeus said in a telephone interview from Iraq. “It’s also in part due to some of the leaders leaving Baghdad” and others being arrested, he said.
This is of course good news, that al-Sadyr’s men are being detained and he himself is in hiding, sends a clear message to the Sunni that the Shi’ia led government is serious about securing the safety for all Iraqis, including that of the minority Sunni. It’s a shame al-Sadyr didn’t stick around to lead the fight against the combined force of US and Iraqi troops, that fatal mistake would have removed one major headache from the scene entirely. However slight the improvement is in the overall picture in Baghdad, some sobering news is offered by Major General William Caldwell:
“Major General William Caldwell said murders and executions in the capital since the Baghdad security plan began on February 14 had been halved but that “sensational” car bombs blamed on al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab militants had spiked in February. “We reached an all-time high there in February,” Caldwell told a news conference, without providing a figure. He said U.S. and Iraqi troops were investing a “tremendous amount of effort” in finding car bomb factories in the Baghdad beltway.”
This is not to say “the surge” isn’t working as planned, I believe that the “Petraeus plan” has already taken into account any noticable shifts in strategy by the insurgents. Also, the Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier Qassim Moussawi “said the number of Iraqis killed by violence in Baghdad between February 14 and March 14 had fallen to 265 from 1,440 and that the number of car bombs was down to 36 from 56.” This proves that the overall strategy appears to be working, and well before the arrival of most of the 20 000 extra troops promised.
Major General William Caldwell, US military spokesman, meanwhile said: “Murders and executions have come down by over 50 per cent [in Baghdad].” He acknowledged there had been a slight climb in the number killed in the last seven days, but not as much as at the equivalent point in the cycle of previous Baghdad security plans. “This past week is normally the week in which the number of murders goes back to their previous levels,” he said. Stepped-up operations by US and Iraqi forces appear to have had much more impact on death-squad activity than on car bombings, however.
This is indeed an encouraging sign that the push to secure Baghdad is working, its continued success depends upon the momentum of the operation being sustained by the combined US/Iraqi forces, as well as the ability to shift their focus as the enemy changes its strategy.
What is also interesting to me is the overall balance to the report by Steve Negus, who offers a clear assesment of the situation as he understands it. Perhaps Finland’s YLE foreign news correspondent, Sanna Negus, could learn something about balance from her husband Steve when reporting about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? *L* KGS