"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Maliki to send several senior officers to early retirement

From Iraq the Model.

There are unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Maliki has issued orders to send several top security officials to early retirement. The list includes the chief of the explosives department and the director of internal affairs at the ministry of interior (MOI). The news came only a day after Maliki fired the director of operations at the MOI. Less than two weeks ago, the director of the national intelligence service was also fired, or made to resign his position.

To read the complete article, click here.

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By the Book: How Democracies Perish

From the American Thinker.

Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate condemning democracy's very existence. But it becomes dangerous when it portrays its mortal enemy as always being in the right. Extravagant criticism is a good propaganda device in internal politics. But if it is repeated often enough, it is finally believed. And where will the citizens of democratic societies find reasons to resist the enemy outside if they are persuaded from childhood that their civilization is merely an accumulation of failures and a monstrous imposture?

- Jean Francois Revel, How Democracies Perish

Sounds like a good book to read, understand, and examine how political entities use exaggerated self-criticism and extravagant criticism to undermine a democracy from within. I have often seen both of these traits among Americans. In the last year, I have also seen it among Iraqis. It is an interesting premise worth reading, understanding, and debating.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Who Was Behind Wednesday's Attacks? [In Baghdad]

From Omar writing for Iraq the Model.

There is near-full agreement in Iraq that Wednesday’s wave of attacks were more than indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Most politicians, commentators and observers believe those behind the attacks want to influence political alignments and voter decisions before general elections next January.

Reading OSINT, it seemed that all were in agreement that the attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday were perpetuated by Sunni insurgents. However, Omar wraps up below why it could have possibly been Shia insurgents or Special Group cells from Iran. When you take the events in Baghdad together with the Iraqi Government recent seige of Ashraf, it provides and interesting perspective on why certain events are unfolding.

First of all, the deterioration in security undermines Maliki’s reputation and weakens his position in a critical time before elections. Second, it spreads fear among the people about a possible return to the dark days of 2006-2007. This in turn reduces the chances of secular parties and encourages voting along sectarian lines as a means to seek protection from the perceived threat other sects poses. Third, it sends a message to Maliki that if he stays close to the U.S. and insists on his increasingly nationalist, non-sectarian course, then he would not have much of a country left to rule.

To read the complete article, click here.

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EXCLUSIVE: Report sees recipe for civil war in Iraq

From The Washington Times.

A report to be published this month by the U.S. government's prestigious National Defense University warns that the Iraqi army and police are becoming pawns of sectarian political parties -- a trend that it calls "a recipe for civil war."

The report by Najim Abed al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi mayor and police chief who helped run the first successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, also concludes that U.S. forces have failed to use their remaining leverage as trainers to insulate the Iraqi army and police from the influence of powerful Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties.

This article is very interesting in that it accurately portrays many dynamics currently ongoing in Iraq. The Iraqi Security Forces are for the most part nonsectarian and generally do operations which are nonsectarian, especially the Iraqi Army. However, there are loyalties to political parties which occassionally swing operations for purposes of different political parties. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the next year as US Forces withdraw from Iraq.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Iraq to Increase Crude Production to 4 Million B/D


Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Al-Shahristani has announced that Iraq will increase its oil production to four million barrels a day (b/d) as an intermediate step toward production of six million b/d.

Finance Minister Baqir Al-Zubeidi said the increase will generate an additional income of $200 billion in the forthcoming period that would help Iraq carry out its development programs.

He added that by reaching this level of production, Iraq will become a center of economic power in the region that would influence the relations with the neighboring countries.

Iraq has sites on becoming a center of economic power in the region.


Abu Risha Sends a Stern Message to Kurdish Leaders

From Iraq the Model.

The chief of the Awakening Councils in Iraq Ahmed Abu Risha told the press that it was not unlikely to form an alliance with PM Nouri al-Maliki in the future because Maliki “presented a national project that transcends ethnic and sectarian lines that strengthens Iraq’s unity”.

When asked about Iran, Abu Risha called Iran’s role in Iraq “worrisome” and that “facing this [intervention] requires that Iraqis adhere to their choice of national independence and reject interference in their internal affairs”.

It seems that Maliki may be able to draw a major Sunni party into his new government. If true, his dependence on Sadr is significantly less important.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Iraqi Chief of Staff Asks Al-Sistani for Fatwa in Support of Security


Iraqi Chief of General Staff General Babaker Zibari called on senior Shi'te cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani to issue a fatwa [religious edict] calling on Iraqis to support security and stability.

Zibari, a Kurd, also asked Al-Sistani to encourage Iraqis to join the armed forces. The request is the first of its kind in Iraq.

It is assumed that Zibari, who is the second most senior army senior officer under Prime Minister Al-Maliki, who is commander-in-chief, has acted at the behest of Al-Maliki, who may have been reluctant for political reasons to approach Al-Sistani directly.

It will be interesting if Sistani delivers the fatwa asked for.

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Sadr Front calls to halt resistance in cities of withdrawal

From Alsumaria.

In a statement read out by Al Sadr Front spokesman Salah Al Ubaidi, the front called on followers to halt resistance in Iraqi cities and villages from which US troops have pulled out.

If Coalition Forces have pulled out of all cites, then does that mean they will stop all resistance. I guess, we will see.

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Iraq Opens Bids for Oil Fields

From Bloomberg.

Iraq auctioned contracts Tuesday to run eight huge oil and gas fields, but only made a deal on one of the fields.

This is the second thing Iraq needs, jobs. Its national resource is oil. While only one of the eight fields received a deal, it points to changing times in Iraq. Iraq is moving from a wartime state to a peace time economy. These oil bids are just the first in a long line of future economic enterprises.

The fact that no companies bid on the other seven fields means Iraq has to go back and make them more competitive to oil companies.


Turkey increases Iraq water flow

From Alsumaria.

Turkey increased the volume of water flow in Euphrates River by 50% to reach 570 cubic meters per second, a percentage claimed by Iraq to plant rice in half of its land in the middle and the south of the country, Ministry of Water Resources declared on Sunday. Iraq hopes that Turkey will keep on increasing the water flow in order to provide water for agricultural purposes and other uses, said an official statement

This simple act, increasing water into Iraq, will do more to eliminate the insurgent threat in Iraq than any additional increase in American Soldiers or Iraqi checkpoints at this stage of the conflict.

As I interface with Iraqis daily, this one issue always surfaces. Water is not only the key to life; in Iraq it is a key ingredient in developing jobs and commerce in this young democracy. It is also critical at returning dependents to their homes, many of which still remain displaced due to lack of drinking or agricultural water.

Reports like this make the chances increase dramatically of this young, fragile democracy surviving to become a solid democracy which will be a beacon for all other countries in the Middle East.

This increase in chance that this additional water brings is as dramatic as the revoluion going on in Iran right now.

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In Afghanistan, crackdown hurts Iran's once-sterling image

From Philip Smucker wrtiing for McClatchy.

"The Iranian government has finally exposed itself as a theocratic, totalitarian regime," said Faqiri, 23, a leader of the organization of a dozen students who meet secretly once a week because the Afghan government frowns on their independent political activities. "Iranian leaders are trying to hang onto power by killing people and destroying their free media."

What is important here is Iranian influence which is rapidly degrading among Middle Eastern nations. What is happening in Iran is a revolution. What is happening to Iranian influence in the region, is revolutionary.

By virtue of its economic ties and support for key areas of the Afghan government, Iran still wields considerable influence in Afghanistan. Increasingly, though, it's viewed by the broader public and by university students in Herat as an anachronistic and authoritarian regime that opposes the will of its own people.

Indeed, after the government crackdown and the popular defiance following the disputed June 12 election, Iran's political influence in Afghanistan is in a downward spiral.

For a full read of the article, click here.

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Fireworks over Baghdad as Iraqis take over cities

From AP via Yahoo.

"The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty."

Being here, in Iraq, and working with Iraqis on a daily basis, I can tell you for them, this marks a turning point in their history. They are now a sovereign nation. They are now in charge of their destiny. Will insurgents try to take this day from them, undoubtedly. Will Iraqis win at the end of the day, most assuredly.

For a full read of the above article, click here.


Iraq and Its Lessons

From Randall Hoven writing for the American Thinker.

What went wrong in Iraq? Why? Who was to blame? Comfortably ensconced in my armchair on Monday morning, let me tell you what happened.
First, how do we know anything went wrong? We should not start out with the common mistake of comparing what actually happened to some impossible ideal. The "ideal" war has zero casualties. We need to compare what actually happened to other feasible alternatives. That means if you are going to criticize what happened, you must present at least one other feasible alternative that would have had a better outcome. (If you can't do that, would you please just shut up.)

In this two part article, Mr. Hoven examines what went right and what went wrong in Iraq. His conclusion is very interesting.

Was there some way we could have nipped the insurgency in the bud, or at least kept it to a "tolerable" level (one that would not threaten our whole mission of rendering Iraq a non-threat to the US)?

I dare say, turning things over to the Iraqis even sooner might have done just that. Ironically, it was the Defense Department, especially the "neocons", who wanted to do that, and the State Department that wanted a true occupation with a US-led occupational government lasting for years.

As it was, President Bush sort of split the difference.

Mr. Hoven offers some great insights to support his conclusion. While he cautions against arm chair quarterbacking, he does a great job of assigning responsibility for the insurgency. It started in Al Anbar and ended in Al Anbar.

Who turned away paying the Al Anbar shieks in early 2003? Paul Bremer.

Who argued for not turning over Iraq to the Iraqis sooner? Paul Bremer.

For part II, click here.


Iraq War: Right Time, Right Place, Right War

From Douglas Stone writing for the American Thinker.

It needs to be said: It was smart to go to war in Iraq; it was courageous to go to war; but most of all -- even though there are few things as horrific as war -- it was necessary to go to war against Iraq. Had we not gone to war against Iraq in 2003, we almost certainly would have done so there or in another Arab country at another time, and all in less advantageous circumstances.
Iraq was the right time, right place, right war.

Mr. Stone writes a good peace about why we are in Iraq and why we need to stay.

For a full read, click here.

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How to smooth the transition in Iraq

Written by John Nagl and Adam Scher for the Christian Sciency Monitor.

Mahmoudiya, a town south of Baghdad, was part of the area long known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the extraordinary number of Sunni insurgent attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians it suffered – often half a dozen daily in 2006. Today, with violence down to only a few ineffective attacks in any given week, it has earned the moniker "Triangle of Love."

The progress there is due in part to the new US strategy. It involved living among the local population to break the hold of the insurgents and now focuses more on partnering and empowering local Iraqi forces than depending on US troops to target and capture enemies.

This switch in Mahmoudiya has spurred economic growth in the area and sheds light on how to manage a drawdown of US forces without sacrificing the hard-won security gains of the past 18 months.

It's clear that the ultimate success of our counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq requires not just a reduction in all types of enemy activity, but also an increase in the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces and the local governing councils.

This is a great, concise article about our way ahead in Iraq.

While I agree with Mr. Nagl for the most part, the part not talked about is the involvement of Iran in Iraqi internal affairs. It is this involvement that keeps a larger American presence in Iraq now than what would otherwise be needed.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq civilian, U.S. troop deaths fall in September

From Reuters via Yahoo.

The number of civilians killed in Iraq last month more than halved to 359 compared to a year ago, Iraqi government figures showed, and the number of U.S. troops killed in action also fell dramatically.

U.S. combat deaths fell to eight in September, down from 12 last month and vastly reduced from 43 in September last year, statistics from independent Web site http://icasualties.org/oif/ showed.

I found this article interesting for a few reasons.

First, 25 US Servicemen died in September 2008. However, only 8 were combat related. Seventeen were from non-combat related incidents. To put another way, two times as many deaths were from non-hostile incidents as were from hostile incidents.

Second, in September 2007, there was 45 deaths from hostile action (not the 43 sited above) which was almost two times as high as the non-hostile deaths.

Third, other than May 2003 and September 2008, the amount of hostile deaths has always been greater than the non-hostile deaths. These two months are the only two months where non-hostile deaths have been greater than hostile deaths.

Finally, the Reuters article notes civilian deaths for September 2008 were 359, down from September 2007 of 884. What the article does not state, but the IBC site does, is beginning December 2007, IBC started to use single source incidents as valid. Therefore, it is expected that the September 2008 number of 359 is high compared to the the same standard applied from September 2007 number. From IBC,

These single-sourced incidents comprise a small proportion of overall incidents and an even smaller proportion of deaths (since these incidents mainly involve smaller numbers killed - two, on average). Such small incidents are rarely misreported: inconsistent reporting mostly applies to very large incidents where the exact death toll is difficult to determine. Further, these single-source reports stem from the same reputable media and primary sources which provide most of IBC's fully-corroborated data, and many of them are subsequently corroborated through later-released official cumulative totals.

While I concur, to some extent, with the paragragh from IBC when it was written in 2007, I do not necessarily concur with that statement now. Many of the current deaths now involve "small numbers" compared to the spectacular and deadly attacks in 2007 in which scored died vice a relatively small number of small attacks in which an average of two died. While I have not correlated the numbers, I would suspect a majority of the attacks now involve "small numbers", possibly inflating the September 2008 numbers when compared to the same 2007 standard. In fact, the number of civilian casualties in September 2008 reported at icasualties.org was 268. But, it is also noteworthy that icasualties.org September 2007 number was also 752, about a 130 less than IBC.

It would be nice to compare apples to apple here vice possibly comparing apples to oranges to get true relative data.

However, it is noteworthly that combat related deaths are now in the single digits, at 8. This has only occurred in three months since OIF began May 2003, July 2008, and September 2008. May 2003 was before the insurgency started. It appears, at least from these numbers, July 2008 is possibly the month the insurgency ended. Just a thought.

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Control of Awakening Councils transferred to Iraqi government

From M & C.

Full administrative control of some 54,000 Awakening Councils members in Baghdad was transferred from US forces to the Iraqi Shiite-led government effective Wednesday the al-Arabiya news channel reported.

The transition of the Awakening Councils to be under the control of Iraq's government was inevitable and was initiated by Baghdad, which will take over the payment of their contracts, US forces Deputy Commanding General William Grimsley said in a statement.

The Awakening Councils - also know as Sons of Iraq - are some 99,000 Sunni tribe members, who, repulsed by al-Qaeda's killings of civilians, allied themselves with US forces. They crushed al-Qaeda militants and have succeeded in driving out a large number of militants since 2005.

Time will tell how well this transfer goes.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq: Al-Qaeda suspects killed in military raid in Baaquba

From AKI.

Three suspected members of Al-Qaeda, including a leading operative, were killed in a raid conducted by Iraqi army forces outside Baaquba, north of Baghdad on Monday.

The raid, reported by the news agency Voices of Iraq, came after a dramatic resurgence of violence in Iraq at the weekend.

"Troops from the Iraqi army's 5th Division in Diyala raided some strongholds of Al-Qaeda in the area of Anjar, 45 km east of Baaquba, killing three members, including an emir (leader)," Brig. Khaled Jawad told VOI.

While insurgents try to regroup in Iraq, the Iraqi Army continues to pursue and kill or capture its leaders.

For a full read, click here.

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Militants pouring in from Afghanistan: Pakistan

From the Khaleej Times.

Militants battling Pakistani forces are getting weapons and reinforcements from Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday, vowing no let-up in their offensive in the northwest.

Government forces launched an offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border in August after years of complaints from US and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan were getting help from Pakistani border areas such as Bajaur.

Now the tables have turned and the militants locked in heavy fighting with Pakistani forces are getting help from the Afghan side of the border, officials said.

This report along with the report of the Taliban transcripting sons from Pakistan families in the FATA/NWFP region make an interesting series of reports.

We are told the insurgency in Afghanistan is on the rise. Some point to the fact that our involvement in Iraq, at the expense of Afghanistan, has caused this rise in insurgency in Afghanistan. If true, then while this battle wages in Pakistan, we would expect to see the insurgency in Afghanistan continue to rise or at least stay the same. However, if this report is correct, we should see a decline in the Afghanistan insurgency due to forces being taken out from Afghanistan to Pakistan. I believe the latter will be the case.

If the insurgency is on the rise and the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent, as is commonly reported by the MSM, then these groups should have enough forces to battle on both sides of the border. Pulling insurgents back from Afghanistan shows this theory is also not correct as does mandating concription of Pakistani sons. Therefore the Afghanistani insurgency is not on the rise given these two reports.

More correctly, over the last two years, Coalition forces have increased in siginificantly in Afghanistan as Iraq winds down and NATO members are putting more forces in Afghanistan. As such, Coalition forces are moving further out from city centers causing battles with insurgents which are being reported by the MSM as a growing insurgency. While insurgent forces have initiated more attacks, I venture to say it is because of a more robust coalition force presence outside of cities vice a resurgent insurgency.

Finally, Pakistan is the last unassailable base for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They must keep the FATA/NWFP region if they hope to have their movement survive. Their unassailable base is now threatened and they are pulling forces out of Afghanistan to help in Pakistan. A similar pulling of forces was seen in mid 2007 from Iraq back to Pakistan/Afghanistan showing Al Qaeda's strength is not as reported.

Instead of losing the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq, the surge defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq and began shaping operations for the Taliban's eventual defeat in Afghanistan where they are forced to withdraw to protect their last unassailable base in Pakistan. Surrounded, this shaping operation will soon beccome the decisive operation resulting in their defeat in Pakistan by a coalition of Pakistani and NATO forces.

This analysis is just another possible scenario not reported by the MSM. It may not be the exact scenario, but just another possible scenario, just as possible as the Coalition is losing Afghanistan.

Just putting out some food for thought.

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‘Sons of Iraq’ Meet With Iraqi Leaders to Clarify Changeover

From MNF-I.

The Sons of Iraq (SoI) program is noted for significantly reducing violence and assisting to secure the populous in Iraq. Shortly, SoI members will be transitioned from US Army to Iraqi Security Force control. Maj. Gen. Abdulkreem Abdulrahman Al-Izi, commander of Rusafa Area Command and 1st NP Div., had this to say,

“We want to show that we are working with the SoI to coordinate our work with them,”....

One SoI leader asked for clarity concerning rumors about the GoI hiring and immediately firing SoI from the positions the Iraqi government are giving them as a reward for their service to Iraq. He said he heard only 20 percent would be hired to work with the ISF and everyone else in the SoI would be unemployed.

Abdulrahman explained that the prime minister’s order outlines that 20 percent of the SoI will work with the ISF and 80 percent will be employed with the civilian Iraqi government as a reward for their efforts, as long as they have not committed crimes against innocent Iraqis.

Future security and prosperity of Iraq is dependent upon the successful handover of SoI contracts to the GoI. While this transition is worrisome, one has to believe that Iraqi leaders nor the American military would allow this transition to occur in such a way to increase violence in Iraq. It will take a long time for Iraqi leadership to trust SoI members as many are possibly former insurgents. However, continued committment by the GoI and SoI can make this transition more transparent. The recent meeting held by General Abdulrahman goes a long way in ensuring all parties of the government's committment to SoI members.

It is good to see that not only will 20 percent be employed in the Iraqi Security Forces, but the other 80 percent will most likely be given civilian sector employment. For now, American Forces need to monitor this transition and ensure all sides are maintaining their committments.

For a full read, click here.

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Report: Iranians Behind Recent Attacks In Iraq


Qassem Ata, spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan, has warned residents of the city of possible suicide operations by Iranian infiltrators in holy places during the 'Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

He said that Iranians who had infiltrated into Iraq were behind recent suicide attacks in the country.

Iran has recently pushed Special Group operatives across the border into Iraq to continue to promote instability in the region. Iraq's ability to thwart these attacks will be a test of their ability to maintain security in their country. The full analysis of these Special Groups is in the above link.

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Iraq launches major offensive against Qaeda

From Alsumaria.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Karim Khalaf announced that Iraqi Forces launched a wide scale military operation against Al Qaeda strongholds in Diyala since Wednesday in counter to the most violent attack Iraqi Forces were subject to in the province.

Separately, the death toll of the armed ambush set against a joint police and awakening council patrol in Al Dulaimat village in Khan Bani Saad in Diyala rose to 35 deaths, security sources reported.

The sources clarified that deaths include 27 policemen among whom 3 officers and eight members of awakening councils.

Meanwhile, one US soldier was killed in a suicide bombing targeting awakening councils and police, the US military reported.

Moreover, Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier Mohammed Al Askari announced that three leaders were killed including a Saudi while three other Al Qaeda members were arrested in a crackdown on Thursday in Mosul.

After a brief amnesty period, another offensive is launched in Diyala.

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UN Chief: Approving elections law major step

From Alsumaria.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon welcomed approval of Iraq’s provincial elections law which he deemed as a major step forward that should contribute to political normalization. Moon’s spokeswoman Michele Montas affirmed that the United Nations will pursue support to the electoral committee in order to ensure all measures aimed to hold credible elections at the right time accepted by the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi Parliament has approved a provincial election law. This act paves the way for provincial elections within the next 4-6 months. This young democracy if forging ahead slowly but surely.

Update: What’s after approving Iraq elections law?

What are the key points of the new law?

The law stipulates to use an open list electoral system where voters can choose specific candidates while the old law refers to a closed list system where they could only select political parties. The new law does not cover the three provinces of Kurdistan. Polls there will be conducted according to a separate law that the region's parliament needs to write and pass.

The new law has some major changes in it. For a good question and answer summarization, click the link above.

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How to Defeat al Qaeda: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

From CQ.

Don’t believe him? Consider, Bergen says, al Qaeda’s strategic errors: the bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2005, which killed about 222 and wounded 338; the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2003, which killed about 35 and wounded more than 160; the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, in 2005, which killed about 60 and wounded 115; and, of course, Sept. 11, which killed nearly 3,000. Al Qaeda’s attacks have been so egregious, even Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor, Salman al-Awda, took, to the airwaves in 2007 to denounce the al Qaeda leader, and his tactics, by name.

Now, al Qaeda is suspected of being involved in the Marriott Hotel bombings in Pakistan this past weekend, which so far has killed 53 and wounded more than 260.

What all these attacks have in common is the condemnation of not only the mostly Islamic governments of the countries where they occurred but also other Islamists. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has only intensified the jihad from within.

While I believe Al Qaeda is self-destructing from within due to its brutal tactics, I do believe its brutal tactics would more likely lead to intimidation of a populous if not confronted by a strong military seeking to secure the population and fighting against Al Qaeda.

However, I do agree with the article when it states we [thru our military forces] will not defeat Al Qaeda, only Islam will. For Islam to succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, these countries need to be supported by all our instruments of national power. Suporting governments fighting against the war of terror is the diplomatic arm of the four instruments of national power. Showing Al Qaeda's atrocities is the informational arm. Al Qaeda's source of fighters need to be given other employment, the economic arm of national power.

All four instruments of national power must be used in conjunction. In Iraq, the government needed to be overthrown, which is why the military instrument was the most heavily used. So to in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan freely elected a democratic government. In this region, we need to focus our effort on informational, diplomatic, and economic efforts; however, the military arm still needs to be used to keep the insurgents off balance.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Officials Say 22 Troops Killed in Ambush Northeast of Baghdad

From FOX News.

Gunmen ambushed Iraqi forces raiding a Sunni village northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 22 policemen and U.S.-allied fighters, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The attackers in the insurgent stronghold of Othmaniyah apparently had been tipped off about the raid and were waiting for the Iraqi forces to arrive, officials said.

For a full read, click here.

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Armed groups cross into Iraq for attacks

From Alsumaria.

Dhi Qar police chief Sabah Al Fitlawi affirmed that extremist armed groups that have trained in Iran have entered the country the last past days in aim to execute bombings targeting senior officials. Al Fitlawi noted that these special groups which include each 10 militants have crossed the borders from Iran into Amara City. He asserted that these forces are targeted against officials around Iraq mainly in Al Nassiriya. He clarified that local authorities have intensified security measures and banned circulation of motorcycles.

This action from Iran will be a good test for Iraqi Security and Coalition Forces' ability to track down these Special Group militants and detain/kill them. PM Maliki's recent surges in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City effectively defeated Special Groups in Iraq causing them to either die in battle, disperse and go to ground, or retreat back to Iran.

Iran has been training Special Groups in an attempt to re-establish their influence within Iran. From this article it appears the training is complete (of at least the first group) and Iran is wanting to re-establish their influence as quickly as possible.

A couple of points here are worth mentioning.

1. Al Qaeda was defeated in Iraq due to its extremism and attacking the population it initially supported. These two factors resulted combined with the surge of American forces to provide seucrity for the population resulted in its loss of tacit support and therefore its unassailable base among the population. The same can be said for Sadr's militia and Special Groups. While initially providing essential services for the population, these entities quickly showed their extremism and attacked the very population which was protecting them resulting, over time, in their loss of popular or tacit support thereby losing their unassailable base leading to their downfall.

2. The capability of the Iraqi Security Forces allows it to protect the population now. Can it defend the country from external major combat operations? No, but it can protect the population from externally led insurgencies and has ties to several people who inform on militants. This fact is how they were able to diminish and almost eliminate Iranian influence in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City.

3. The Iraqi government is providing essential services now to most Iraqis. While limited, projects are underway for better and more efficient services. Commerce is beginning to take hold in the country, not only in Baghdad, but also in smaller townships. While significant problems still exist, they are being resolved slowly but surely.

4. The recent violence is still fresh in many Iraqis minds. They do not want to return to violent extremism of 2006. Special Groups coming into communities will not be welcomed and I predict will be informed upon. Expect to see ISOF operations in the near future taking down these groups once they attempt to establish a base of operations from which to launch attacks.

5. These Special Groups may get one or more attacks off. If they do, the possible renewed violence will have many groups informing on these Special Groups further limiting their ability to carry out future attacks.

Iran needs to quit these forms of operations as it will only hurt their political and economic impact they could have within Iraq. Iran is still trying to stir up insurrection to keep the US military consumed in Iraq. However, the game has changed and Iraq is moving from a war to nation building. Iran's attempt to bring back a state of war will fail as ISF capacity is now too great to allow large scale open warfare by an insurgency. In addition, Coalition force numbers are still too great to allow this to happen.

There are many within Iraq who would favor much Iranian influence in Iraq; however, not by an insurgency or Special Groups. Iran's major influence in Iraq right now could be political. Trying to re-establish an insurgency will only hurt their political efforts.

The Hezbollah model used in Lebanon will not work in Iraq as Iraq has a robust provincial and tribal influence which makes it down to the normal Iraqi and provides for the tribe. Unlike Lebanon, reconciliation in Iraq started from the bottom up vice the top down. The only places where this model had hopes of florishing were Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. All of these places and their inhabitants are now better off without Iranian Special Group influence and the people know it. Commerce quickly came back to Basra and Sadr City once Special Groups were contained/defeated. In additon, oil wealth is making it down to these groups already. This fact will only become more and more evident as essential services become more and more robust.

Attacks will also not work as they will only spur popular dissent against these groups.

Iran's best bet at this time is to attempt to influence the government. Unfortunately, its major power brokers in this realm is Sadr and his political members who are walking on egg shells at this time as they have lost popular support especially in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. Also unfortunately, Sistani, the revered spiritual leader in Iraq, is very much against a theocracy and has stayed out of polititics as the country develops its democratic ways.

Given its goal of maintaining an isurgency to keep the US tied down, Iran has no other good choice, in the near term, except to bring in Special Groups to continue or promote an bloodshed. While it may get off a spectacular attack, I predict this project will fail miserably as Iraqis are tired of war, are finally experiencing what a free, democratic society can do for them, and are quite frankly liking it.

Once this project fails, Iran will continue to train Sadr and wait for Sistani's death in the hope that they can re-introduce Sadr as an Ayatollah. However, by that time, democracy should be so ingrained in Iraq that this religious influence will be seen as an infringement of democratic rights. That is why Sistani is allowing this democracy to learn and grow without religious influence right now. He understands that while a democracy will keep the church and state separate, a strong democracy can lead to a strong conservative religious movement which can benefit from the power of the secular state.

This fact is lost on leadership of Iran which has a strong religious totalitarian state which must suppress its people to maintain control. However, it is not lost on its people who will shortly see that crossing over the border to Iraq will allow for democratic freedoms they have been lacking for almost 30 years. This fact is what Iran truly fears most. It is a fact which all totalitarian states in the region fear most, and it is why all these states allowed members from their soil enter Iraq to attempt to destroy the young democracy.

For its part, the US must maintain a strong presence in Iraq until successful handover of power from pronvincial and national elections. At that point, the democracy in Iraq will be unstoppable for Iraqis have given what is needed to allow for a successful democracy to persist and flourish. Namely, they have given their blood. The current generation will not soon forget this very gruesome fact.

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Back in Iraq, Jarred by the Calm

From the New York Times.

At first, I didn’t recognize the place.

On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I’d forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan’s Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.

Prosperity and commerce are coming to Iraq as Mr. Filkins points out. Iraq is not without issue, nor is that the purpose of Mr. Filkins' article. However, at this time there is peace, prosperity, and hope. While he writes that Iraqis do not know what the future will bring, Iraqis are none the less hopeful of a brighter, better future.

For a full read, click here.


The Endgame in Iraq

From Jack Keane, Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan writing for The Weekly Standard.

On September 16, General Raymond Odierno will succeed General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The surge strategy Petraeus and Odierno developed and executed in 2007 achieved its objectives: reducing violence in Iraq enough to allow political processes to restart, economic development to move forward, and reconciliation to begin. Violence has remained at historic lows even after the withdrawal of all surge forces and the handover of many areas to Iraqi control. Accordingly, President Bush has approved the withdrawal of 8,000 additional troops by February 2009.

With Barack Obama's recent declaration that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, it should now be possible to move beyond that debate and squarely address the current situation in Iraq and the future. Reductions in violence permitting political change were the goal of the surge, but they are not the sole measure of success in Iraq.

The United States seeks a free, stable, independent Iraq, with a legitimately elected representative government that can govern and defend its territory, is at peace with its neighbors, and is an ally of the United States in the war on terror. The Iraqi leadership has made important strides toward developing a new and inclusive political system that addresses the concerns of all Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups. But it has also taken steps in the wrong direction.

These authors of the surge of American forces in 2007 provide an interesting and insightful analysis of not only military, but political considerations in Iraq. They discuss how and when we should drawdown force, long-term security agreements, and the way ahead to ensure Iraq remains a stable democracy and ally to the United States.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Government Will Now Pay ‘Sons of Iraq’ Citizen Volunteers

From MNF-I.

The government of Iraq (GoI) has pledged millions of dollars to begin paying the ‘Sons of Iraq’ (SoI), the highly-successful, volunteer groups of citizens who have been instrumental in decreasing violence throughout the country.

Beginning, Oct. 1, 2008, American taxpayers will no longer pay to support the SoI program.

The United States currently pays SoI members $300 a month. By the end of November, the Iraqi Army will pay SoI members in Iraqi Dinar, said Maj. J.D. Highfill, deputy team leader with embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad – 5, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division.

A good news story.

For a full read, click here.

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Muslim support for suicide attacks, bin Laden down: poll

From AFP.

The number of Muslims around the world who say suicide attacks are acceptable has fallen sharply in the past six years, as has Muslims' confidence in Osama bin Laden, a survey by a US think-tank showed Thursday.

Many pundits tell us that our War on Terror has only incited Muslims. However, as this article shows, the War on Terror has hit home with most Muslims. Overwhelmingly, they do not like suicide attacks. While the article states,

But, the Pew Research Center warned in its Global Attitudes Project, significant minorities of Muslims in eight countries surveyed continue to endorse suicide bombings and support the Al-Qaeda leader.

This significant minority of Muslims is never above 1/3 for suicide attacks and is a similar low percentage for support for Osama Bin Laden.

The question becomes why?

First, extremists muslims have killed fellow muslims which has caused intellectual turbulence among muslims. In fact, their attacks, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, are almost solely directed against fellow muslims.

Second, the extremists have lost in Iraq thanks to the surge of American forces which provided time for the Iraqi Army to build capacity. If we would have pulled out of Iraq and left it a quaqmire, I am sure support for Osama Bin Laden and suicide attacks would have been much higher.

Finally, as I have stated before, people, whether muslim, christian, or other, just want to be able to work and provide for their family. Extremist muslims, the type supported by Bin Laden who commit suicide attacks, prevent this from happening when they extort money, blow up shops, prevent commerce, etc, etc. Fellow muslims see and know this effect firsthand. They do not like it.

We must use this drop in popularity to our advantage in the information war against muslim extremists. This change in attitude is important to capitalize on. Bullets will never win this war. Changes in attitudes will. Changes in attitudes are happening.

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Iraqi Army Surging Ethics Training

From MNF-I.

The Iraqi Army wants every Iraqi Soldier to receive ethics training just like he receives marksmanship or drill and ceremony training.

Since 2003, the primary focus for the Iraqi Army has been building the force. Getting Soldiers trained to fight took precedence over many other military functions. Iraqis came from all locations and all walks of life to join the fight to secure their country from terrorists.

Every one of those Soldiers brought a unique set of values with him: personal values, family values, community values and religious values. Creating a culture of ethical behavior means that each Soldier must now learn and accept Iraqi Army values.

Those core values are the same as the United States Army’s: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and courage. [emphasis added]

Why is the Iraqi Army leadership now focusing on ethics training?

The decline in violence in Iraq has given the center some breathing room to push training out to the field. Mobile training teams are visiting all the Basic Combat Training locations as well as the four military academies. [empahsis added]

For all those folks which still believe Iraq is surrounded in violence, this should be proof enough that the focus in Iraq is shifting from security to reconconstruction. One of parts of reconstruction is to ensure the Army also reconstructs itself correctly. It is also of note that the Army is using the same values which are used by American Soldiers.

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Iraq's Nouri Maliki breaking free of U.S.

From the Los Angeles Times.

Once dependent on American support to keep his job, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has consolidated power and is asserting his independence, sharply reducing Washington's influence over the future of Iraq.

Iraq's police and army now operate virtually on their own, and with Washington's mandate from the United Nations to provide security here expiring in less than four months, Maliki is insisting on imposing severe limits on the long-term U.S. military role, including the withdrawal of American forces from all cities by June.

America's eroded leverage has left Iran, with its burgeoning trade and political ties, in a better position to affect Iraqi government policies.

Ned Parker provides a very interesting read in this Los Angeles Times article. As the American surge of forces allowed Iraqi forces to build capacity resulting in PM Maliki strengthening his position, American influence has wained.

However, a few points which Ned Parker washes over allow the US to retain influence on PM Maliki. First and foremost, is air power and logistics. Iraqi Security Forces need assistance from the US with building their airforce and also current air power capabilities. In addition, while logistics have improved in the Iraqi military, US support is still needed.

Secondly, PM Maliki will have to treat the Sons of Iraq correctly or these folks will melt back into the insurgency. Right now, the US is seen as the arbiter of these forces. If not treated correctly, these forces can quickly turn on Iraqi forces.

Thirdly, Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shia, do not want a theocratic state in Iraq that is subservient to Iran. The Shia coalition will faulter rapidly if this is the is seen as the future of the Iraqi state.

Finally, provincial elections and upcoming national elections are a concern for all parties involved and will significantly change the dynamics in Iraq. Free and fair elections will result in a drastic change in Sunni leadership both at the local and national level which can function as an effective opposition party, especially when united with the Kurds. Provincial elections will result in a more secular focus at the local level resulting in this bottom up movement reaching the Iraqi parliament -- very similar to the bottom up reconciliation which resulted from the Anbar Awakening movement.

PM Maliki is aware of all these issues and is trying to maintain a strong, vibrant coalition which he has built up in the last few months through the elections. His new found strength is dependent upon US forces present in his country providing air cover, logistics, internal security, and limiting external influences. PM Maliki must balance his yearning for independence against his military's capacity, which while able to maintain internal control (with assistance), cannot by any means thwalt an external threat from Iran nor maintain internal control if the Coalition leaves. If he fails to maintain his strong man persona and does not provide for his electorate (which has become the immediate concern), he too will find himself being replaced in upcoming elections.

The US can let both of these events happen if he becomes too unruly by letting him founder militarily or by not providing essential services for the populous. PM Maliki knows this and this fact still allows the US the needed influence over him.

However, I do agree with Ned Parker. Our influence is waning, but wane it should. We gave Iraqis a democracy. It is truly up to them to continue their democracy or resort to something else. We can help guide, but we cannot give them something they are not willing to fight for. I have to believe the events of the last several years will make Iraqis fight for the hard won democracy they now have. I believe, PM Maliki understands this fact.

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'This is Not Us'

From the Weekly Standard.

Photini Philippidou reports that there's a Pakistani protest song "Ye Hum Naheen", Urdu for "This Is Not Us", seeking to redefine Islam as anti-terrorist. The song has stirred 62.8 million Pakistanis to sign a petition, either by name or thumbprint, saying that true Muslims don't support terrorism. Check it out here.

It is interesting to note 62.8 million Pakistanis have signed this petition. Watching the video, it is noted that the Pakistani Soccer team also chanted this title.

It is reports like this which confirm what I have said in the past. Al Qaeda/the Taliban's extremism is not supported by the vast majority of Muslims. This fact was true in Iraq. It is true in Afghanistan. It is true in Pakistan.

However, Iraq had a surge of forces which secured the population enough so that fence sitters stopped their tacit support of the extremists eventually causing mass non-support for Al Qaeda in Iraq among the Sunni population in Al Anbar which spread through much of Iraq resulting in the relative peace Iraq now enjoys.

More forces are needed in Afghanistan to also cause these "fence sitters" to stop their tacit support of the Taliban. Similarly, the Pakistani Army needs to move full force into the FATA/NWFP regions to provide security for these fence sitters. Several jirgas have been held in these regions which only resulted in death to the jirga members and no response from the Pakistani military. In turn, tacit support of Al Qaeda/the Taliban still exists in this region.

Al Qaeda is demoralized in Pakistan as US predator attacks continue unabaited. Now is the time to strike at the heart of Al Qaeda in this region, their last unassailable base and the homeland of the birth of Al Qaeda. Compensatory payments for collateral damage on our part will go a long way to ensuring the population does not move over to Al Qaeda. A massive military build up in these regions by Pakistani forces will ensure Al Qaeda's presence is reduced.

While a surge of American forces was needed in Iraq to allow time for Iraqi forces to gain capacity, Pakistani forces already have this capacity. They just need to use it. Yes, the Pakistani military is not well trained in COIN operations, but neither was the Iraqi Army which trained on the battlefield. So too can the Pakistani Army train on the fly as they have a much more robust officer and NCO corps than the newly capable Iraqi Army.

The US must continue its pressure in this region to bring the Pakistani Army out of its garrisons and into the fight. While risky, it is much more risky to allow Al Qaeda to retain its unassailable base in this region.

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Letters from Al Qaeda leaders show Iraqi effort is in disarray

From Billl Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda's senior leadership has lost confidence in its commander in Iraq and views the situation in the country as dire, according to a series of letters intercepted by Multinational Forces Iraq earlier this year.

The letters, which have been sent exclusively to The Long War Journal by Multinational Forces Iraq, are a series of communications between Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq's leader, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq. These letters were intercepted by Coalition forces in Baghdad on April 24, 2008. One of the letters written by Zawahiri is dated March 6, 2008.

Just how bad is it for Al Qaeda in Iraq now vice in March.

An operative captured on Aug. 21 said the group has "lost the overall fight" and suffers from "extreme financial difficulties." Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq do "not presently have any long time plan and are only focused on short time fighting," the operative told US forces.

Another operative, also captured on Aug. 21, said "foreign fighters in Iraq are on the brink of extinction and the group's "biggest concern right now is where to sleep at night without being arrested."....

Throughout Iraq, recruiting is difficult if not impossible. "The main problem is that al Qaeda in Iraq has lost support of the people in Iraq," one captured operative said. [emphasis added]

The significance of these findings cannot be overstated. For an insurgency to exist and proliferate, it needs three main things:

First and foremost, an insurgency needs an unassailable base, that is, a place from which insurgents and leaders sleep, plan future activities, and provide logistical support to the network. From the above we get Al Qaeda no longer enjoys an unassailable base and are not only not planning future activities, but are just trying to find a place to sleep.

Secondly, an insurgency needs at least the tacit support of the population. Tacit support is either allowing the insurgents to operate in a region out of fear of indifference or actively supporting an insurgent. Due to Al Qaeda extreme form of Islam and cruel punishment of members who did not obey this extreme form of Islam, Al Qaeda in Iraq lost its popular support. The surge of American forces and later Iraqi forces gave those who were fearful the backbone to confront Al Qaeda. The successful Awakening movement in Al Anbar thus quickly spread to the rest of Iraq. Al Qaeda lost its popular and tacit support from the population. This fact feeds back into the first tenet which is an insurgency needs an unassailable base. Without popular support, Al Qaeda also lost its unassailable base.

Finally, all insurgencies need external support. Iran is not providing for Al Qaeda and from the sounds of it, neither is Al Qaeda's Zawahiri as he no longer trusts Al Qaeda's in Iraq's Commander. Letters have gone unanswered as have requests for information. Al Qaeda in Pakistan is also being pounded every few days by Predator strikes which limits the support this level of command can give to Al Qaeda in Iraq. They are now trying to stay alive themselves much less plan detailed future operations for the network.

Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its terror war. It lost this battle not only against the Shia dominated Iraqi government, but more importantly among the Sunni minority population because it could not provide victories against the Shia dominated government and began a cruel abuse of its perceived power in the region.

Now that Al Qaeda in Pakistan is being pursued more vigorously, Al Qaeda in general will lose more and more popular support in this region. We are already seeing this as tribal jirgas form to rid themselves of Taliban influence and fighters. The difference in Pakistan right now is the Taliban are able to strike back effectively against these jirgas. They lost this ability in Al Anbar, Iraq which resulted in Al Qaeda in Iraq's eventual collapse.

A surge of US forces into Afghanistan will yield similar results in Afghanistan. A push by Pakistani forces into the FATA/NWFP regions in Pakistan will limit Al Qaeda's last unassailable base.

The spring of 2009 is going to be an interesting time as the snow melts in this region and all forces are rested up to begin the next phase of the battle.

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Al-Qaeda attack networks impaired (Bayji, Kirkuk)

From MNF-I.

Iraqi and Coalition forces killed two terrorists and detained 13 suspected terrorists during operations to degrade al-Qaeda in Iraq attack capabilities around the country Thursday and Friday.

Thursday, Coalition forces captured an alleged AQI leader in Bayji, about 160 km south of Mosul. The alleged leader is believed to oversee all terrorist attacks in Bayji, including an attack Sep. 8 that killed two Iraqi policemen and wounded another four. During a separate operation in Bayji on Thursday, Coalition forces captured a wanted man suspected of working in the AQI bombing network that extends through the Tigris River Valley. Five additional suspects were detained in the two operations.

A man who identified himself to Iraqi and Coalition forces as the leader of AQI bombing operations in Kirkuk was captured Friday in the city. As part of his self-proclaimed role of overseeing bombing attacks, the man is assessed to be responsible for suicide and roadside bombings from Kirkuk to Hawijah. He also reportedly has ties to senior AQI leadership in Tamim province.

In a remote area near Qara Tappa, about 130 km northeast of Baghdad, Coalition forces targeted two terrorists Friday, one of whom is a known AQI cell leader in the area. Surveillance teams positively identified the two terrorists and called for supporting aircraft to engage them. Both terrorists were killed. The cell leader was part of an AQI network in the Hamrin Mountains region that operates terrorist training camps and recruits female suicide bombers to conduct attacks against civilians and security forces.

A targeted individual believed to be part of the AQI network that brings foreign terrorists into Iraq identified himself to Coalition forces during an operation south of Baghdad Friday. Two additional suspected terrorists were detained.

Coalition forces in Ramadi, about 100 km west of Baghdad, targeted members of an extremist group aligned with AQI and detained five suspected terrorists Friday.

Articles like these are the predominate news coming out of Iraq these days. An interesting change in this article is AQI members are coming forward and identifying themselves to Coalition and US forces. One has to wonder how low morale is among AQI members to freely offer themselves up to Coalition and Iraqi forces knowing they will very well spend a long time in prison. These self-disclosures are not indicative of an organization which is waiting in the wings until a US withdraw.

It appears the back of AQI is broken by the surge of US and Iraqi forces last year, the increase in ISF capabilities, and the coming provincial elections. While all these factors brought about the defeat of AQI, key leaders turning themselves in will bring the distruction of the entire network in Iraq.

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Saleh: Provincial elections end of December

From Al Sumaria.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh noted that provincial elections might be carried out in late December using old procedures if lawmakers fail to agree on a new election law. In a statement to Reuters, he explained that if elections are not held on time, local councils in the country would be considered disabled.

On the other hand, Saleh declared that the central government and Kurdistan regional government have formed a committee aimed to ease growing tension regarding Kirkuk issue and oil and gas law. The committee has started work weeks ago stressing that linking between provincial elections and Kirkuk issue is regrettable.

It will be interesting to see if provincial elections can take place this year under the old procedures.

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New procedures to enroll Awakening members

From Al Sumaria.

Baghdad Operations Spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atah announced that Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki ordered on September 8 to join in Awakening Councils members who enjoy conditions of enrolment in Iraq armed forces, i.e. Iraqi police and Army. In an interview with “Newsmatic” on the sidelines of a conference organized by the office of Prime Minister for a number of Awakening Councils leaders in Baghdad, he clarified that the resoluition that was issued 3 days ago stipulates many conditions to approve the enrolment of Awakening councils members in the security apparatuses including being able to read and write, their educational level as well as passing the medical exam. To that, it is necessary that Awakening Councils members’ criminal records shall be clean.

To that, the head of National Reconciliation Committee in the Council of Ministers Mohammad Salwan said that the resolution regarding merging Awakening Councils will include all Awakening Councils members in all the Iraqi Provinces. In the same context, Baghdad Operations Command, Maj. General Abboud Kanbar affirmed in a statement during the conference that the conditions of enrolment that were established in order to accept Awakening Councils members was used as a deterrent measure to prevent militants from infiltrating into Awakening Councils. Kanbar said that Baghdad Operations Commandment will be responsible of accepting Awakening Councils members in the security apparatuses. Enrolment applications will be submitted to the military unit in charge in each of the capitals regions and afterwards a High Committee including representatives of Baghdad Operations Command and National reconciliation Committee in order to study the same, he said.

This statement is a significant change from previous statements. As of a few days ago, only the Al Anbar Awakening movement (a political organization) was going to be brought into the ISF. Now it appears that all Awakening movements have a path for being accepted into the ISF. This apparent change should be watched for how well it accepts Sons of Iraq members from other provinces.

A few days ago, it was announce the GOI would take control of Sons of Iraq in Baghdad beginning on 01 Oct 08. This hand-over is the first step to eventually take control of all Sons of Iraq organizations.

The Sons of Iraq organizations have been credited with reducing the influence and violence of insurgent groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army.

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Stryker brigade, son of VP nominee deploy

From the Army Times.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin switched roles Thursday, shifting from Republican candidate for vice president to an anxious mom sending her son off to war in Iraq.

Her eldest son, Spc. Track Palin, is being deployed with 4,000 soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. The 19-year-old will provide security for his brigade’s top officers, an assignment that is expected to take the unit to Diyala.

At a deployment, she spoke in her capacity as governor and not as a political candidate.

“We’re going to miss you,” she said at Fort Wainwright. “We can’t help it. We’re going to miss you. With our prayers and with great pride, we are sending off these brave men and women.”

For a full read, click here.

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How to Leave a Stable Iraq - Building on Progress

From Foreign Affairs.

The Iraq war has become one of the most polarizing issues in American politics. Most Democrats, including Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), want large, early troop cuts; most Republicans, including Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), want U.S. troops to stay until Iraq's stability is guaranteed. Years of bad news from the front have hardened these divisions along partisan lines and embittered many on both sides. Today, however, there is reason to believe that the debate over Iraq can change. A series of positive developments in the past year and a half offers hope that the desire of so many Americans to bring the troops home can be fulfilled without leaving Iraq in chaos. The right approach, in other words, can partly square Obama's goal of redeploying large numbers of U.S. forces sooner rather than later with McCain's goal of ensuring stability in Iraq.

This article is one of the most comprehensive articles which accurately describes the current security and political situation in Iraq. The authors detail the history of violence in Iraq and how this violence has transformed into a relative, but tenuous, peace.

This remarkable change in Iraq's security situation results from the interaction of AQI's errors, the surge in U.S. troop levels, the growing capacities of the ISF, and the downstream consequences of all of this for the Shiite militias. AQI's first big mistake was bombing the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006. The attack drew the Shiite militias (many of which had been merely defensive) into the civil war in force and on the offensive, and so began the battle of Baghdad -- a yearlong wave of sectarian violence pitting Sunni insurgents and their AQI allies against JAM and its allies. At the time, Americans saw this wave of bloodshed as a disaster, and in terms of human life it clearly was. But it enabled a later wave of cease-fires by fundamentally changing the Sunnis' strategic calculus. The battle of Baghdad gave the Sunnis a clear view of what an all-out war would really mean, and they did not like what they saw.

When discussing troop projections, the authors cite troop projections are not time, but situation dependent and note that by 2011 it would be possible to reduce our presence in Iraq by half if the security situation remains stable.

Exact projections of troop requirements are difficult to make, but current trends suggest that the United States should be able to cut its presence in Iraq substantially -- perhaps by half -- over the course of 2010 and 2011. Doing so would be contingent on making further progress against the insurgency, keeping the peace during the upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections, and continuing to assist the Iraqis as they work toward healing their sectarian divisions. A destabilizing election, a renewal of sectarian violence sparked by badly handed refugee returns or poor resolution of the Kirkuk dispute, or more destabilizing activity by Iran would change this timing. Any schedule for withdrawal will be subject to the inherent uncertainty of a conflict as complex as the one in Iraq.

While this article is long, it is also extremely detailed and provides a good background and way ahead for US forces in the region.

For a full read, click here.

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News From Iraq

I have noticed lately a lack of news from Iraq. I found a couple of items which are representative of Iraqi news.

From the Khaleej Times.

With Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, Iraq's first Christian militia enforces one simple rule on the border of this little village. 'Anyone not from Tel Asquf, is banned.'

From the The Post Chronicle.

U.S. soldiers, tipped by Iraqis, found a major cache of bomb-making materials in Babil province, military officials said Sunday.

The soldiers discovered more than 2,500 components that could be used to make penetrator-type bombs, the officials told American Forces Press Service. The materiel was found in an area southeast of the village of Samrah.

From Al Sumaria.

Police chief Brigadier-General Sabah Al Fitlawi ordered the arrest of the owner of a virtual company under the name of “Iraq Reconstruction” which has branches in eight southern provinces and Baghdad on account of judicial complaints accusing him of seizing millions of dollars. Al Fitlawi affirmed that arrest warrants against Ali Mohsen Al Rubaie, his father and his brother were issued five days ago on account of citizens’ complaints.

And another article from Al Sumaria.

The political council for national security did not convene to discuss Khanaqin crisis as some Kurdish leaders were not present in Baghdad. Therefore, the dilemma over Iraqi Army deployment in Khanaqin is unsettled mainly that some parties claim that the political council is not concerned with this issue.

These articles are representative of the main news coming out of Iraq in the last few weeks. Citizens are solving local security issues. Coalition forces found and cleared another cache. The police are searching for a corrupt businessman. Political councils are trying to resolve a border issue.

It struck me that several of these issues are also seen in many western democracies. Folks, concerned about security are starting a neigborhood watch, granted, they have AKs, but it is a neighborhood watch none the less.

While there still are explosions here and there, a larger part of the news involves caches being found. In this particular case, the cache was some 2500 components which could be used to make EFPs.

As things have settled down, locals are beginning to wonder where millions of dollars in reconstruction money went and thus are searching for the culprit.

Finally, politicians are getting together to solve the Khanaqin issue. Notice there are not firefights over the issue just parties getting (or in this case, not getting) together to attempt to resolve an issue peacefully.

Make no doubt about it, Iraq is still a dangerous place. However, the intent of the surge, which effectively just ended with the last of the surge forces being pulled out last month were to quell violence by bringing down insurgent groups, provide the time necessary for the Iraqi Army to build capacity so that they could not only police themselves but also go after insurgents, to provide breathing space to the Iraqi Government so they could begin the reconciliation process, and allow the Iraqi Government to begin to govern beyond the Green Zone.

From the articles above, it sound precisely like all objectives have been accomplished. While Iraq will still need to fall under the security umbrella of the US for some time to come, Iraq is beginning to move beyond a young democracy only securing its politicians into a democracy which secures the population, which allows the population to prosper, which allows the population to grow economically, which in turn allows a population to invest in its own future, which brings in immigrants due to superior market forces (more money than one can make in their own country).

Yes, Iraq is fast becoming the beacon of democracy in the center of the Middle East for all other countries to emulate. Yes, there are still problems. Yes, it ain't perfect. But it is a heck of a lot better with Saddam gone, not supporting terrorists anymore, and growing into a vibrant democracy which one would presume would be friendly to the United States.

One point I would like to make. If I were Mullahs in Iran, I would be extremely worried to have such a vibrant growing economy on my borders which houses a majority Shia population. Fellow Shias may begin to wonder why they are not prospering to the same degree. This fact was after all, the strategic objective for going into Iraq in the first place.

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Iran’s Fantasy: A Renewed Cold War between "Infidels" Russia and America

From Walid Phares at Counter Terrorism Blog.

The post-Soviet world has never been closer to what we knew as the Cold War than right now. Iran is pleased. We should all be concerned. New proxy conflicts may soon emerge.

Why is Iran pleased?

In Iran, strategic planners knew all too well that even though it was the United States which threatened the regime’s ambitions, it was in fact the passive entente between the old foes of the Cold War that allowed Americans to come so close to Iran’s borders. Hence, in order to reverse the Western advance in the Middle East and, more importantly, in order to escape a democratic revolution against the regional tyrannies, the Russo-American entente would have to crumble. Therefore, the current escalation into what looks like—but is not exactly— a return to the Cold war is a “gift from heaven” to the Iranian regime. For even if these tensions do not climax into a full fledge comeback to the post-WWII era, they will and have already allowed Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to break loose from the containment and isolation processes. Here is how.

In the past years after 9/11, Russia worked cooperatively with the West to pressure Iran and its allies in the region at the UN Security Council with the passing of UNSCR 1559 and its subsequent resolutions regarding Syria and Lebanon. Moscow still walked with the international community in pressuring Tehran to cooperate on the nuclear crisis. But in the last few years, Russian-Iranian, and to a lesser degree Russian-Syrian, cooperation began to grow and the attitude of the Kremlin towards U.S. policies in the region became more and more rigid.

Once again, Walid Phares provides an interesting perspective from a Middle East viewpoint. I concur with Mr. Phares. The US needs to ensure we do not resort to Cold War mentality with Russia. We need Russia as a partner against the greater Islamist threat.

For a full read, click here.

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Doubts persist as Iraq takes over U.S.-backed patrols

From Yahoo via Reuters.

The United States will begin handing over control to the Iraqi government in October of largely Sunni Muslim local guard units credited with helping contain bloodshed across Iraq.

The current plan calls for the Iraqi government to take over payment of over half of the Sons of Iraq in October focusing on Baghdad.

The Iraqi government will take over payment in October of the 54,000 members of the neighborhood units that operate checkpoints and patrol streets in and around Baghdad, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Kulmayer said in an interview.

It will mark the first major step in a delicate transition that U.S. officials hope will ultimately see 20 percent of the U.S.-backed units incorporated into Iraqi security forces.

Many in the armed units "were former insurgents, and that's why we call this a reconciliation issue," said Kulmayer, who will oversee the transfer of Awakening units to Iraqi control. "It's important that they're now included in the new Iraq."

Under the U.S. and Iraqi plan, those who don't join Iraqi security forces will be given civilian jobs.

How this transition takes place may very well determine the future stability in Iraq.

For a full read, click here.

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Two senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders captured in Baghdad

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Coalition forces captured two senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders behind some of the deadliest violence over the past several years. Both men were detained during the past two weeks in raids by Task Force 88, the hunter-killer special operations teams assigned to dismantle al Qaeda's networks in Iraq.

The special operations teams captured Salim 'Abdallah Ashur al Shujayri during an operation on Aug. 11. Six days later, Ali Rash Nasir Jiyad al Shammari was captured. The locations of the raids were not disclosed by Multinational Forces-Iraq.

Mr. Roggio notes that Shujayri and Shammari stayed behind in Iraq to continue Al Qaeda's operations there while many other Al Qaeda leaders have fled to Pakistan.

Al Masri and other senior al Qaeda leaders are believed to have left Iraq for al Qaeda's more secure sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Al Masri is an Egyptian. By leaving, al Qaeda's foreign leadership has abandoned the Iraqis who signed on to wage jihad against the West.

Shujayri and Shammari, both Iraqis, stayed behind to continue the fight. Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, the US military spokesman in Iraq, said Shujayri and Shammari are "two of the few remaining experienced leaders" in al Qaeda's network.

This statement brings up a couple of questions.

1. Why would Al Masri and other senior Al Qaeda leaders leave Iraq?

2. Why would Al Masri and other senior Al Qaeda leaders move to Pakistan?

The rejection of Al Qaeda's gruesome tactics by Sunnis left Al Qaeda without the tacit support needed to maintain an insurgency. In addition, Al Qaeda's senior leadership left Iraq because of the surge of American forces not only hunted them down but bought time for Iraqi forces to build capacity. Upon building capacity, Iraqi forces not only went after Al Qaeda elements but also lately Shia insurgents. Iraqi security and political forces are not open to peace treaties as were leadership in Pakistan. Finally, Pakistan represents the last unassailable base for Al Qaeda.

This unassailble base is now being assailed as Pakistani forces have begun attacks in the FATA and NWFP regions. In short Al Qaeda has lost Iraq, have attempted to expand in Afghanistan, and are now being attacked in their heartland, the FATA/NWFP region. Pakistan's new leadership tried a peace treaty, but have since changed their position and have rejected future peace treaties.

What is the cause for this rejection? Simply, the US surge when all seemed lost turned around conditions in Iraq. Other nations, noting the success of the surge, are now more apt to battle vice negotiate with terrorists on their soil.

One has to wonder what today would be like had President Bush listened to doomsayers and began to pull out vice surge forces in June 2007. Al Qaeda would be pushing forces into vice away from Iraq possibly causing it to fracture into three parts, Kurdistan, the Sunni Central, and the Shia Southern giving Iran access to the Mediterranean. Pakistan too would probably be negotiating with Al Qaeda vice battling them in earnest now in the FATA/NWFP regions. NATO forces would be isolated in Afghanistan under pressure to withdraw by their respective leaders.

A simple lesson has been relearned which has been true ever since man began to walk upright. You either confront the bully or become under the bully's control. Thank God, President Bush had the intestinal fortitude to confront the bully. Not only are we safer today, but so will our children be safer in the future.

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U.S., Iraqi Negotiators Agree on 2011 Withdrawal

From the Washington Post.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are "very close" to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.

Iraqi and U.S. officials said several difficult issues remain, including whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the agreement publicly, said key elements of a timetable for troop withdrawal once resisted by President Bush had been reached.

With the current security gains in Iraq, this tentative timetable for withdrawl of US forces will allow Iraqi forces to continue to mature and secure their country from foreign intervention. US forces will be out of cities by next June. In addition, military trainers will stay in Iraq for an unspecified period of time. While not mentioned here, I am certain long-term bilateral security agreements are also in the works much as they are with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

It is much better the US is able to withdraw from Iraq under secure conditions as opposed to unsecure conditions which were present when President Bush announced the surge of US forces in January 2007.

For a full read, click here.

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Bungled raid in Diyala threatens political developments, military operations

From the Long War Journal.

Recent political progress in Diyala may unravel after a botched attempt to capture a provincial official at the main governmental center in Baqubah killed an assistant to the provincial governor.

An attempt to arrest a Sunni member of the provincial parliament, Husain al Zubsidy, by a special division of the Iraqi Army went foul early on Aug. 19, causing a 30-minute firefight between the Iraqi army and local police. A special assistant to the governor of Diyala was killed in the shootout. The assistant, al Tamimi, was also a close relative of the governor of Diyala, Ra’ad Rashid al Tamini, and the killing has threatened to unhinge gains made in recent weeks.

The Long War Journal has a good analysis of recent events in Diyala.

For a full read, click here.

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Al-Maliki appoints interior minister to lead Diyala probe (Extra)

From Monsters and Critics.

Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday appointed his interior minister as head of committee that will investigate Tuesday's crackdown on the Diyala province by US-led Iraqi special forces, reports said.

Jawad al-Boulani and his team would study details of the crackdown, including the raid on Diyala government headquarters in Baquba that sparked clashes in which the secretary to Diyala Governor Raad Rasheed al-Mulla was killed, according to the Voices of Iraq news agency.

A number of Diyala government officials, including Hussein al-Zubeidi, who heads Diyala's security committee, were arrested in the raid.

As part of the crackdown, US-led forces also arrested the head of Diyala University and clashed with university security guards. Four people were killed in clashes.

Al-Maliki ordered an investigation on Tuesday.

PM Maliki ordering an investigation of recent Sunni arrests in Diyala is an interesting development. Jawad al-Boulani is know for his apolitical views.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Sunnis outraged over Diyala raids, arrests

From Yahoo via AFP.

Iraq's largest Sunni party accused government security forces of sectarian bias Tuesday after soldiers arrested a Sunni university president and a Sunni provincial council member northeast of Baghdad.

The raids in Diyala province follow an Iraqi crackdown there against U.S.-backed Sunni Arab volunteers who turned against al-Qaida and joined the fight against the terror movement.

Yesterday, Iraqi troops raided the Provincial Governor's office, who is a Shiite, but arrested a Sunni Provincial Council member, who is a Sunni.

The troops stormed the office of the provincial governor, Raad Rashid al-Tamimi, triggering a gunfight that killed his secretary and wounded four of his guards, police said.

The Sunni head of the provincial council's security committee, Hussein al-Zubaidi, was arrested, police said.

Apparently, Iraqi troops had arrest warrants.

However, a senior Iraqi army officer who took part in the raid said troops carried arrest warrants for both the university president and the head of the security committee.

As more and more Al Qaeda in Iraq are arrested, they are undoubtedly turning up evidence implicating other members. Hopefully, these arrests are legitimate and not sectarian related.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi soldiers storm Diyala governor's office, killing one

From Yahoo via AFP.

soldiers stormed the governor's office in the restive province of Diyala before dawn on Tuesday, killing his secretary and firing on local police, the governor told AFP.

The incident in the provincial capital Baquba, which occurred about 2 am (2300 GMT Monday), sparked clashes between the soldiers and local security forces which governor Raad Rasheed Mulla Jawad said had caused casualties.

"During the night, Iraqi forces from Baghdad burst into the provincial council building," arriving in Humvee armoured vehicles, said Jawad, whose province northeast of the capital remains one of Iraq's most dangerous areas.

A very interesting development in Diyala indeed.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq cracks down on US-backed fighters

From the International Herald Tribune.

The Shiite-led government is cracking down on U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in one of Iraq's most turbulent regions, arresting some leaders, disarming scores and banning them from manning checkpoints except alongside security forces.

Moves against the fighters in Diyala province reflect mixed views on a movement which began in 2007 among Sunni tribes in western Iraq that revolted against al-Qaida in Iraq and joined the Americans in the fight against the terror network.

The Iraqi government is extremely resistent to bring Sunni Son's of Iraq members into the security forces.

A top Iraqi security official with access to classified information said authorities were especially suspicious of the Diyala groups because many of their estimated 14,000 fighters had been members of al-Qaida in Iraq.

But moving against the Sunni movements could alienate the once-dominant minority Sunni Arabs at a time when overtures to them appear to be making headway.

"We fought the Americans for four years and we fought al-Qaida too," said al-Safi, a former Iraqi army commando and a veteran of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. "We are an experienced armed group. We are fully capable of bringing the house down."

This situation is extremely touchy. PM Maliki's successes in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul, and now Diyala make him feel he does not need to integrate the Son's of Iraq, a predominant Sunni group. The US military, on the otherhand, does not want to alienate fighters who have now switched sides and are fighting against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

A review of past insurgencies show that a country's military must be integrated and representative of all parties within the country which is why the US is pushing for the Son's of Iraq integration. PM Maliki's position is also understandable, but in direct violation of counter-insurgency principles and the reconciliation the country needs to continue to grow as a democracy. However, a review of our policies after the civil war will show not much difference between the Union's position to the South.

PM Maliki is testing fate here. Whether or not his military forces are strong enough to prevent a resurgent insurgency is to be seen. In addition, his failure to establish a SOFA with US forces may also put past successes in question. Finally, Iran is a wild card which PM Maliki cannot control.

This situation needs to be monitored closely for signs of a resurgent insurgency which Iraqi forces are unable to quell.

For a full read, click here.

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Diyala governor survives potential coup d’état, suicide bomber

The Long War Journal provides an insight into Diyala from the tactical to operational level.

Governor Ra’ad Rashid al Tamini didn’t seem in an overly jovial mood on Wednesday, even if his aides all agreed on his high spirits. An outsider may say his face displayed more relief than joy, which is no surprise: firing your militant police chief, then surviving an assassination attempt and a coup d’état in a two-day period can wind even the most talented of political athletes.

The article continues with a central issue in securing and re-invigorating Diyala, namely, establishment of civilian government control in the region with support from a strong military and police force to further promote immediate security and long-term economic development. To accomplish this overall objective, the Diyala provincial council decided to fire it police chief who, according to the council, was not doing enough to promote security in the province.

In Diyala, north of Baghdad, months of a “cold war” between al Tamini and the provincial police chief, Ghanem al Qurayshi, came to an end Aug. 10. Diyala’s provincial council voted 36-0 to oust the police chief, after numerous run-ins with councilors and the governor over the extent of his police authority. Even after the vote, the central government in Baghdad could have countermanded the decision, given al Qurayshi’s close ties to power brokers within the Shia-based political parties.

“We have enforced the laws,” said al Tamini in an interview. “Our society will improve so much if we can educate people about how the law strengthens the country. It was the first time the provincial council applauded for me. The decision came from their hearts.”

Diyala, in many instances, is a microcosm of Iraq. The province encompasses areas of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia influence. It is a mostly agrarian community which provides agricultural staples to other provinces. Its cities, more like towns, are a diverse mix of farmers, craftsmen, tribal chiefs, and technocrats. Tribal influence in this region is strong in many outlying areas and less organized in other areas. In some parts of the province, it is arid while other parts are lush giving it the name the bread-basket of Iraq. Due to its relative position from Baghdad, its security is vital to securing Baghdad which is why it became the center of activity for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

As such, Diyala residents have seen their share of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqi government officials, local military officials, and US forces. Given that Diyala was the last bastion of control for Al Qaeda in Iraq, it is also possibly the most war torn and least effectively governed at this time. This vast province serves as a vital line of communication from Kurdish areas to the north, the central government to the south, Iran to the east, and Al Anbar to the West.

Securing Diyala starts with ridding the province of insurgents and then establishing the rule of law as al Tamini pointed out above. It continues with economic development in all aspects of society from farming, craftsmen, technocrats, and security forces. Economic development is now the key in Diyala. one hundred million dollars have been promised to the area. This money needs to get down to the local farmers in the form of microloads which will promote economic development, infrastructure development which will provide jobs for craftsmen, and government jobs which will allow people in the province to have a say in their future development. The security forces need vehicles and supplies to maneuver around the province to further promote security.

Having just come from this region, it has a strong provincial reconstruction team (PRT), a solid military and police transition team (MTT/PTT), a capable military and police force combined with a capable and committed civilian government which is linked with US forces to promote longterm security and economic development. The severe drought in the region is complicating economic recovery as have past battles which pitted neighbor against neighbor. Relationships need to be rebuilt, not only between neighbors, but also between citizens and government officials, government officials and security forces, and finally tribal leaders and government all while trying to defeat the last vestiges of Al Qaeda in Iraq from the region.

PM Maliki's efforts in the region will jump start security. Now it is up to Iraqi government officials, the Iraqi military and police, PRTs, MTTs/PTTS, and the US military all working in concert to bring economic vitality back to this wartorn region. The efforts in this region encompass all forms of economic development from vegetable farmers to chicken coup ranchers, craftsmen who provide implements for these farmers and ranchers, and development of the oil sector within this region. Efforts must be moved forward while keeping tribal leaders, businessmen, and government officials all focused on the end result, namely, a free democratic province with a diverse economy which could once again become the bread-basket of Iraq, not only in terms of agriculture, but also in terms of small industry and local government initiatives.

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Police hail round-up of al Qaeda suspects

The Miami Herald provides a good insight into what is currently happening in Diyala at the strategic and operational level.

More than 600 arrests of high-level and not-so-high-level al Qaeda in Iraq suspects have been made here in the last two weeks. There have been some major rough spots -- insurgents have mounted at least three lethal attacks against Iraqi security forces, and they tried to kill the provincial governor Tuesday -- but it seems that Operation Glad Tidings, which brought more than 30,000 Iraqi troops and policemen into Baqouba and the surrounding countryside of Diyala province, is moving from the clear-and-hold phase to the public relations phase.

However, reconstruction money has not yet been delivered or spent within the province.

A $100 million reconstruction fund has been announced but not a penny of it has been spent, and the committee that will decide how to spend it does not exist yet.

''We are not strangers,'' Ghaidan said at a neighborhood meeting to 120 displaced families who were sitting before him under an awning. "We know what happened here. There is unemployment, yes. Al Qaeda stopped everything -- government, services -- and most people got threats."

"We know all this. We have come to solve all these problems. Government has many gates, but the Ministry of Defense will open them for you.''

The families listened appreciatively, but when the general finished and walked toward his truck, dozens of mothers in their black abayas pushed toward him. They wanted prosperity, but all that the general had to offer, for the moment, was water and boxes of rice.

Diyala is one of the last bastions of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Currently the Iraqi military is conducting clearing operations in this region and from the story, beginning to transition to rebuilding operations. Getting the economy restarted is extremely important as Al Qaeda in Iraq completely wiped out the bustling economics of this region. To add to misery, a severe drought is continuing so that even basic supplies are in short supply. How the Iraqi Government helps Diyala may very well be indicative of the path the nation, as a whole, takes in the future.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban win a fight - and settle scores (- As do others in the global match for control)

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

When several hundred Pakistani troops backed by paramilitary forces on Friday launched an operation against militants in Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, they received a most unwelcome surprise.

News of the offensive, which proved to be the most bloody this year in Pakistan, had been leaked to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants by sympathizers in the security forces, and the army walked into a literal hail of bullets.

In the first few hours, 65 Pakistani Soldiers were killed, 25 were taken prisoner, and several more were wounded. Furthermore, in the article Shahzad notes,

On Wednesday morning, Haji Namdar, the chief of the "Vice and Virtue" organization in Khyber Agency, a tribal region on the Afghan border, was gunned down in his office by Baitullah's men.

Although Namdar supported the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, he was a strategic asset for the Pakistani security agencies trying to wipe out al-Qaeda-influenced radicals and the neo-Taliban.

In April, he sold out the Taliban after initially agreeing to help them target the North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply lines passing through Khyber Agency. (See Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass Asia Times Online, April 26, 2008.) Namdar had survived an earlier suicide attack in which about 30 people died.

The above linked story is great read to understand why Namdar was killed. In another story in the Asia Times Online, Syed Saleem Shahzad reviews Al Qaeda's/The Taliban's strategy.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have with some success squeezed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's)supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan, especially goods in transit in Khyber Agency on the border.

He continues with the Taliban's two major objectives,

An al-Qaeda member told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, "The single strategy of severing NATO's supply lines from Pakistan is the key to success. If the blockage is successfully implemented in 2008, the Western coalition will be forced to leave Afghanistan in 2009, and if implemented next year, the exit is certain by 2010."

Several al-Qaeda cells have apparently been activated in Karachi to monitor the movement of NATO supply convoys.

This focus on Karachi coincides with two major events. First, the Pakistani armed forces are heavily engaged in fighting against militants in Bajaur Agency and in the Swat Valley in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

At the same time, the coalition government in Islamabad is preparing to impeach Washington's point man in the region, President Pervez Musharraf, mainly over his implementation of a state of emergency and dismissal of the judiciary last year when he headed a military administration

Later Mr. Shahzad notes,

NATO is understandably acutely concerned over protecting its supply lines into land-locked Afghanistan. When routes in Khyber Agency came under attack this year, NATO reached an agreement with Russia for some goods to transit through Russian territory. This alternative is costly, though, given the distances involved, and can only be used in emergencies.

Washington tried to get Iran to permit the passage of goods from its seaports into neighboring Afghanistan, but Tehran refused point-blank.

Now we are beginning to see the bigger geo-strategic picture, especially when tying together other players in this region. Iran, to no surprise refused to allow supplies thru its territory. In addition, America has had a pretty timid response with regards to Russia and its ongoing actions in Georgia. Finally, Isreal is also in the mix.

With the eruption of fighting between Russia and Georgia, Israel has found itself in an awkward position as a result of its arms sales to Georgia. Israel is now caught between its friendly relations with Georgia and its fear that the continued sale of weaponry will spark Russian retribution in the form of increased arms sales to Iran and Syria.

So, American supplies lines are threatened in Pakistan, especially with the death of Namdar. The only other option available is bringing supplies thru Russia, who could quickly turn this supply line off if the US interferes with its Georgia operations. Israel, who supplies arms to Georgia, is hard-pressed to continue to supply Georgia as Russia may retaliate by sending more arms to Iran, hindering its ability to reduce a potential nuclear threat from Iran. Finally, we have an article from an earlier Rambling from the Rock post about a naval task force composed of the US, Britian, and France on station at the Persian Gulf with a Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean

All the parties/players in this region are positioning themselves for control in key oil producing or oil shipping regions. A storm is coming, make no doubt about it. Who ultimately comes out victorious may well decide control of this region for decades to come.

Noting the coming storm, all parties may settle for a win-win proposition. Russian wants to reclaim Georgia and have control of its strategic oil fields and pipeline. Israel wants to diminish Iran's nuclear capability, as does all the other players, to include Russia. Russia; however, wants to limit US influence in its backyard, the Middle East, and therefore has no problem giving Iran nuclear technologies to keep the US focused on this enemy and not on its own actions in the Caucus region. For its part, Russia can continue to sell nuclear material to Iran knowing down the road the Iranian nuclear program has a good possibility of being bombed out of existence by Britian, France, the US, and/or Israel.

The staging of its (Russia's) naval task force close to, but in a position to not affect, an allied attack shows its supports Iran, but unfortunately could not come to its aid (in direct action against the US or its western allies which it fears). Therefore Russia continues to have good relations with Iran, possibly beginning again to build its nuclear capability, and in the meantime swallows up Georgia with future sites on the Ukraine. It becomes a winner with more capability down the road.

The reduction of Iran's nuclear ability will be the winning game for Britian, France, Israel, and the US, if they have the nerve to attack. If not, Russia wins this battle also. If they do attack, Russia still wins Georgia and can continue to resupply Iran and maintain influence in the Middle East.

If the US decided to blunt the attack in Georgia and attack Iran, Russia could assist the Taliban in closing the Khyber Pass supply line and close its own, or better yet, keep it open at a hefty cost. Russia still wins, but to a lesser extent. Russia could also decide to supply Iran with better air defense missiles allowing it to still influence Iraq without fear of retribution, thus continuing to tie up Allied forces in Iraq. As it stands now, the coalition just lost another partner in Iraq as 2000 Georgian troops are flying home to defend their country.

All the chess pieces are on the board. Now it is just a matter of future moves, counter-moves, and reactions. The permutations are endless, but the winners and losers are already identified.

Now for a lesson in global politics and strategy. Do you want to be a country in the global politics who can influence and defend its own future path or a country who depends on others to influence its future path? Personally, I want to be part of a country which has major pieces on the chess board to determine its own future path as opposed to a featherweight boxer in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.

The USA is the heavyweight champion in the realm of global politics and strategy. Russia is the contender who has been beaten once but is inline for a rematch. All others are lesser contenders who need the support of either of these two heavyweights to have say in the modern world.

As we move closer to another general election where the candidates are clearly for and against a military or other presence in the Middle East, we must keep in mind what is truly at stake. At stake is whether we will be the heavyweight champion in the region, the beaten contender, or just another featherweight boxer who needs a heavyweights assistance to have any say in global strategy and in the global economy. To me, the choice is easy.

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SPECIAL REPORT: Kuwait Readying for War in Gulf?

From the Middle East Times.

The US, Britian, and France are assembling a large naval force in Persian Gulf.

Leading the pack is the nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its Carrier Strike Group Two; besides its 80-plus combat planes the Roosevelt normally transports, it is carrying an additional load of French Naval Rafale fighter jets from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently in dry dock.

Also reported heading toward Iran is another nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan and its Carrier Strike Group Seven; the USS Iwo Jima, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and a number of French warships, including the nuclear hunter-killer submarine Amethyste.

Once the naval force arrives in the Gulf region it will be joining two other U.S. naval battle groups already on site: the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Peleliu; the Lincoln with its carrier strike group and the latter with an expeditionary strike group.

Just how big is this task force and why is it being established?

This deployment is the largest naval task force from the United States and allied countries to assemble in the strategic waters of the Persian Gulf since the two Gulf wars.

The object of the naval deployment would be to enforce an eventual blockade on Iran, if as expected by many observers, current negotiations with the Islamic republic over its insistence to pursue enrichment of uranium, allowing it, eventually, to produce nuclear weapons yields no results.

Is Russia also getting into the act or strategically positioning itself where it cannot assist Iran since it would have to fly over Iraq to offer such assistance?

Adding to the volatility is the presence of a major Russian navy deployment affected earlier this year to the eastern Mediterranean comprising the jewel of the Russian fleet, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with approximately 50 Su-33 warplanes that have the capacity for mid-air refueling. This means the Russian warplanes could reach the Gulf from the Mediterranean, a distance of some 850 miles and would be forced to fly over Syria (not a problem) but Iraq as well, where the skies are controlled by the U.S. military, and the guided missile heavy cruiser Moskva. The Russian task force is believed to be composed of no less than a dozen warships as well as several submarines.

Only time will tell, but the naval task force being assembled is significant to say the least.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran on Its Heels

From Vali Nasr writing for the Wasington Post.

For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain -- Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq's oil exports; Sadr City and the threat it posed to Baghdad security.

Mr. Nasr ends with,

It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.

I could not agree more.

For a full read, click here.

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Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo

From Yahoo via AP.

Not wanting to downplay this article nor the use of torturous methods, but I find the wording of the article interesting. First the title.

Report: Exams prove abuse, torture in Iraq, Gitmo

Exams prove abuse, torture. Is it abuse, torture, or both? Clearly being locked up in a jail is abusive when compared to being free. But abuse if a far cry from torture. So, what does the article say about abuse and/or torture.

Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders, according to a human rights group....

Seven were held in Abu Ghraib between late 2003 and summer of 2004, a period that coincides with the known abuse of prisoners at the hands of some of their American jailers. Four of the prisoners were held at Guantanamo beginning in 2002 for one to almost five years....

Because the medical examiners did not have access to the 11 patients' medical histories prior to their imprisonment, it was not possible to know whether any of the prisoners' ailments, disabilities and scars pre-dated their confinement. The U.S. military says an al-Qaida training manual instructs members, if captured, to assert they were tortured during interrogation.

Looking at three different parts of the article and putting them together we get seven were held at Abu Ghraib during a period of known abuse (again, not torture). The facts surrounding Abu Ghraib have already been reported. So is this article just a rehash of Abu Ghraib abuses that already resulted in disciplinary actions? The article also goes on to state the medical conditions of detainees was unknown beforehand. In addition, are the detainees using their training as the article discusses and then disregards. Now, let's look at what is considered torture.

_Stress positions, including being suspended for hours by the arms or tightly shackled for days.

_Prolonged isolation and hooding or blindfolding, a form of sensory deprivation.

_Extreme heat or cold.

_Threats against themselves, their families or friends from interrogators or guards.

Ten said they were forced to be naked, some for days or weeks. Nine said they were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation. At least six said they were threatened with military working dogs, often while naked. Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape.

Stress positions - Economy seats on airlines are stress positions. However, the article states it "includes" (but doesn't state it was caused by) being suspended by arms or shackled. So, at the very least all detainees had handcuffs or zipcuffs on. And they apparently were on rather tightly. Again, where is the torture?

Blindfolding - We have all seen pictures of detainees blindfolded during transport within the prison and to/from the prison. I am not sure this constitutes torture, much less abuse.

Extreme heat/cold - Both or one of them? Ok, it is hot in Iraq and Gitmo. Got it, the prisoners were hot. So was I wrapped up in body armor in Iraq when it was 130F. While uncomfortable, I would much rather do that than fly in economy seats for prolonged distances on an airplane.

Threats - So, guards or interrogators told detainees they were going to kill and/or capture their other terrorists friends. Again, not sure where the abuse is in this story.

At times, guard/interrogators kept detainees naked, deprived of sleep, or threatened with dogs (understand it doesn't state there were actual attacks). These all sound like pretty sublime interrogation techniques.

However, the article does state, "Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape. " Note, the article does not state that any of the detainees were sodomized or subjected to anal probing. Instead, detainees could have only been threatened with rape.

Finally, the article states,

The patients underwent intensive, two-day long exams following standards and methods used worldwide to document torture.

"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.

Clear physical and psychological evidence was found of torture and abuse. What physical evidence? The article already stated that past records were not available. As for psychological evidence these detainees are fanatical terrorists who blow themselves up, make women cover themselves from head to toe, prevent women from being educated, or kill a women if she reports a rape. I question their psychological stability prior to detention.

In addition, the article never unequivocably states detainees were attacked by dogs, raped, or hung by the arms. It just states they were threatened or shackled. Again, these are interrogation techniques. The goal is to make the detainee believe that he is going to be attacked by dogs, raped, or hung by the arms if he does not talk.

I guess what the article is implying is we should put the detainees in 72F rooms with nice beds and pillows, TVs, and microwaves and then ask them for information. If they don't give us the information, we should give them ice cream and tuck them in for a good night sleep. If they still don't tell us anything, we should put them up in a middle class neighborhood in the middle of America and let them go free.

Come on folks. This is a war against people who drive up to an outdoor market with a car ladened with 300 pounds of explosives and blow themselves and scores of innocent men, women, and children. This is a war against people who kill women if they accuse a man of rape. This is a war against people who circumcise women to keep them faithful. This is a war against people who want possession of a nuclear weapon so they can kill thousands with a single push of a red button.

I truly believe that threatening detainees with dogs, handcuffing them, depriving them of sleep, blindfolding them, striping them of clothes, making them hot (or cold), threatening to hurt their friends (read other terrorists), and even threatening rape to make them talk are sound interrogation techniques, not abuse and certainly not torture by any stretch of the imagination.

It is called interrogation and it is what is done during war. It is what is done in a war in which the enemy does not wear a uniform, hides behind civilians, and indiscriminately kills innocent women and children.

Just my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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Al Maliki the Victorious

From Mshari Al-Zaydi writing for Asharq Alaswat.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki does not tire of reiterating the words national reconciliation, closing the ranks, eliminating sectarianism and foreign infiltration and purging the security forces of sectarian and partisan tendencies. However, more than anything else; he likes to talk about his Iraqi identity and the immortal Iraqi state.

Mr. Al-Zaydi continues with a brief historical background of Maliki and how his background is influencing his current actions. He ends with,

Mr. Prime Minister, we hope that your nationalistic and non-sectarian words are genuine, although we see a group of your advisors following a different course than yours. Theirs is a tense sectarian rhetoric that is partisan-inclined and narrow minded.

And who knows, perhaps the man’s words are true, especially when he mentions his grandfather; the poet [Muhammad Hasan Abi al Mahasin] who was the poet of the national revolution, and says that he is an extension of that patriotism.

An interesting read. For a full read, click here.

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AQI Bombing Networks disabled (Baqubah, Tikrit)

From MNF-I.

Coalition forces detained 33 suspected terrorists Saturday and Sunday during operations targeting al-Qaeda‘s terrorism and facilitation networks around Iraq.

What this story does not tell is how integrated intelligence suppored by SoIz and ISF presence coupled with multiple and successive prior detentions of AQI insurgents has put AQI on the run and incapable of mounting a coordinated offensive. They are hiding out in safe houses planning their own survival instead of planning operations against Iraqis.

For a full read, click here.

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The Ultimate Sadrist Spin

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Muqtada al-Sadr throws down his arms at Maliki’s feat in the last act of his months-old saga of surrender; he officially disbands the Mahdi Army to everyone’s disbelief, including mine,

Mr. Kazimi continues,

I read Sadr’s directive yesterday: I have to admit that at first I dismissed it as a forgery, seeing that it appeared on an anti-Sadrist website that had peddled forged statements attributed to Sadr in the past. Not only was the wording weird and disjointed, but Sadr actually demobilizes the Mahdi Army, going far beyond “freezing” its activities as he did twice in the past year. He limits “resistance” to a “group that shall be authorized to do so by us in writing soon” and that they alone were the ones allowed to carry arms. Everyone else must turn pacifist.

This piece is very interesting. Beginning in March, PM Maliki began going after the Mahdi Army and Special Groups. He had success in Basrah and later repeated that success in Sadr City. Now Sadr is disbanding the Mahdi Army while Iraqi Army forces are going after his and Iranian elements in Maysan.

PM Maliki is also using the Iraqi Army against the last remaining remnants of Al Qaeda in Mosul.

Having just returned from Iraq recently, I can honestly say it is quite different from a few years ago. But more about that later.

For a full read, click here.

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Cat’s Out of the Bag: Onwards to Maysan

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Well I guess enough people are openly discussing this now in Baghdad that it’s okay for me to write about it. Mind you, all the following is classified under the category of gossip:

The Iraqi Army and the Marines are preparing for a major campaign against Mahdi Army and Iranian targets in Maysan Province (‘Amara). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may even put the entire elected leadership of ‘Amara—many of whom are Sadrists—out of a job, by flexing his authority under emergency powers. There is even talk of air strikes against military targets—weapons depots, transportation vehicles and individuals—on the Iranian side of the fence; these are targets that are arming and otherwise supporting the Special Groups throughout Iraq.

The Maysan Province is home to the major ratline of supplies from Iran. It is also home to many Iranian agents inside of Iraq. As such, Mr. Kazimi states,

I expect the battle for Maysan to be difficult: this would be Iran’s last stand in Iraq. The fighting would also be occurring on topographical and human terrain that the Iranians have been studying and cultivating for decades. It could start incrementally, and the ante could be raised as the operation faces increased resistance, eventually leading to bombing runs inside Iran.

The province is worth watching. If a battle occurs in this region, it will mark the formal end of all friendly relations between Iraq and Iran and will fully test PM Maliki and his Security Forces.

For a full read, click here.

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Al-Sadr lawmakers denounce Iraqi government

From Yahoo via AP.

Lawmakers loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr accused the Iraqi government of trying to crush the movement and warned Saturday of "black clouds" on the horizon for truces that have eased fighting between al-Sadr's militia and security forces.

This statement was delivered by Sadr backed elements after Iraqi forces detained approximately 350 Sadr supporters this weekend in southern Baghdad and continues it pressure on Sadr forces in Basra. Sadrist lawmaker Aqeel Abdul-Hussein stated,

The government is "moving forward in its project to liquidate all the national figures in a more savage way than the previous (Saddam Hussein) regime," Abdul-Hussein told the press conference.

A couple things are interesting here.

1. The difference between the Maliki government and the Saddam government is that in 2009, if PM Maliki goes too far, his government can and will be voted out of office.

2. Sadr's forces are attempting to show the Maliki government is secular not understanding that Iraqis have always been and are becoming more and more secular daily. It is only a recent phenomena (2004-2007) where religious forces gained an upper hand in Iraq. This upper hand is now being lost again to secular forces, especally in the southern regions of Basra and Najaf, the western region of Al Anbar, and the northern region of Mosul. Non-secular figures and militia have caused the violent insurgency in Iraq.

3. Sadr's forces keep threatening to end the ceasefire, but constantly back down. Why? Everytime they end a ceasefire, Iraqi Security forces kill and detain them in numbers over 100 per day. They are able to do this not only because of their increased capacity, but also because this militia no longer enjoys the tacit support of the population. Al Qaeda used to have support from Sunnis. It no longer enjoys this support. Similarily, the Mahdi Army used to have this support among Shiites. It no longer enjoys this support, which is why is constantly backs down.

4. Iraqi Security Forces are seen as secular force which will ensure freedom and democracy in the region. Whether they have to battle extremists Shiites or Sunnis, they are doing their job professionally and effectively. All Sadr's spokesmen can do is to try to tarnish this image. However, they are not succeeding.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq says Al-Qaeda cleared from main northern city

From Yahoo via AFP.

A 10-day operation by Iraqi troops in Mosul has succeeded in dismantling Al-Qaeda's network in Iraq's main northern city, regarded by US commanders as the jihadists' last urban bastion, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

"Operation 'Mother of Two Springs' has enabled us to dismantle and weaken the Al-Qaeda network in Nineveh province," ministry spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP.

A total of 1,480 people have been detained since the operation began on May 14, 300 of them wanted suspects, Khalaf added.

"Among those arrested were important Al-Qaeda leaders, including both military commanders and intelligence chiefs, as well as members of Ansar al-Sunna, the Army of Mujahedeen and the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution," all Sunni Arab insurgent groups, he said.

In 12 days of operations, Iraqi forces with assistance from the US have captured 300 high-level insurgents or an average of 25 per day. Of the 1480 captured, about 1000 insurgents maintain in custody. Put another way, this is 83 insurgents taken off the street per day.

In case one is wondering if the right people have been captured, understand in the 12 days since operations "Mother of Two Springs" started, attacks in Mosul are down 85%.

Couple these reports with the report that nine local emirs were captured in Diyala, and one begins to see a pattern of a complete collapse of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Iraq's last unassailable base was Mosul. From Mosul, Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out operations in Salaldin and Diyala Provinces.

While, Al Qaeda in Iraq attempts to regain a foothold in Al Anbar, it has been run out of Diyala and Salaldin Provinces and fled north to Mosul. Now its forces are being rounded up in Mosul. Simultaneously, 3ID forces have all but cleared the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad. The Marines are keeping Al Anbar quite. All of this is against the backdrop of Sons Of Iraq forces still growing in numbers daily.

Which was once of force of a few thousand Al Qaeda members who enjoyed tacit or active support from the population is now a force which is having its leadership decapitated daily with Sons Of Iraq providing security once Iraqi and US forces clear towns and communities.

Operationally, PM Maliki's forces have cleared the South of Shiite militias and Special Groups and are now walking freely in Sadr City. The Kurdish north has always been secure and is propsering well. Al Anbar was cleared in early 2007. Now the center of the country, known as the belts around Baghdad are being cleared of insurgents to include their last city held, Mosul.

Strategically, since PM Maliki's forces led the charges in the South, Sadr City, and Mosul, his Army is being seen as having the capability to secure its own country. In fact, they are not only securing their own country, they are clearing insurgents out of their country. Secure is a defensive term while clearing is an offensive term.

Because his forces are now going after not only Sunni insurgents, but also Shiite insurgents, PM Maliki is buiding up trust among Sunnis (and Iraqis in general), who are going back into the government. His military successes have resulted in political reconciliation as a strong central government has emerged. This strong central government will now be expected to maintain the peace and also begin to provide essential services throughout the country, especially in recently cleared and secured areas.

With violence dropping 85% in most areas, PM Maliki must transition his efforts from gaining security to maintaining security and reconstruction. Reconstruction will lead to further reconciliation. Reconciliation will lead to a strong, unified, democratic government which will continue to build capacity to provide essential services and security to the populous. Once both of these are provided, the new democratic Iraq will shortly become an economic powerhouse in the region causing other nations in the region to wonder aloud why they are not enjoying the same economic freedoms as their Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish brothers.

The one answer will be democracy which can maintain security while promoting economic prosperity. A fundamental shift is about to occur in the Middle East. This shift will be away from dictatorships to democratic governments which allow the common man to rise up from poverty through hard work and propser.

If 2007 was the turning point militarily in Iraq, 2008 will be seen as the turning point economically and politically. I predict 2009 and 2010 will be seen as the turning point politically in the region as a whole.

All of this has been made possible by a bold initiative began in early 2003 to replace a dictator and install a democratic government in the center of the Middle East for all other countries to emulate. Ronald Reagan got the Soviet Union to drop the wall and freed millions of people in Europe. George Bush destroyed a similar wall in the Middle East which also freed millions of people. Unlike Eastern Europe where a transfer to democracy was executed from the ground up, in the Middle East it was introduced from the top down simultaneously with security being formed from the bottom up.

Al Qaeda, Iranian Special Groups, and Shiite Militias have all been on the wrong side of this war for freedom and democracy. They are now suffering the consequences of their actions.

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Iraq: Police arrest senior al-Qaeda members

From AKI.

Two senior members of the Islamic State of Iraq extremist group have been arrested, according to police in Diyala province, north-east of the capital, Baghdad.

The Islamic State of Iraq is the umbrella name adopted by al-Qaeda groups in the country.

"On Sunday our battalion carried out a raid with the US forces in the area of Buhroz, arresting 29 terrorists," said the chief of police, according to a report in London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

"Among those captured were nine local emirs of al-Qaeda."

If true, this raid and subsequent capture marks another significant blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq. An insurgency cannot maintain itself if it continues to lose Tier 1 and 2 insurgents at the rate which is happening during operation "Mother of Two Springs".

For a full read, click here.

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Gates: US endgame now close in Iraq

From Alsumaria.

While security forces are pursuing their fight against terrorism and outlaws, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates considered that the “endgame” is now close in Iraq stressing that withdrawal of US Forces will be carried out along a slow process. Yet, he warned of the costly consequences of an early pullout.

Gates made the comments in a speech delivered to US special operations forces at their headquarters in Tampa, Florida, recalling the past failures when security was handed over to Iraqi forces before they were ready based on overly optimistic predictions that didn’t necessarily conform to reality.

“We must be realistic about the challenges still facing Iraq: al Qaeda remains a lethal force always looking to metastasize and regenerate; armed militias still undermine the rule of law; and the government, while making great strides, still has a lot to learn about how to deliver basic services and security to its people,” he said.

The strategic goal in Iraq is a unified democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror.

In order to be a unified democratic federal Iraq, it first and foremost must be secure. Security can be provided by US forces, but it is better provided by Iraqi forces. Iraqi forces have now proved they can enter and secure the three largest population centers in Iraq - Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul. In short, it can defend itself.

In order to be a unified democratic federal Iraq, it must provide basic services to its population. This capacity has been built up in Iraq since day one and is currently being built up to a greater extent in Iraq now that the security situation is improving. Security improvements will lead to providing essential services in a democracy. If it doesn't, leaders will not win re-election.

As military capacity and governance increases, Iraq will be able to sustain itself in due course. This is why we must be cautious of a rapid withdraw of US forces. The surge made great strides in Iraq, not only militarily, but also politically, economically, and informationally. A gradual withdraw will ensure these strides are not reverse, but in fact continue forward.

Iraq is proving it is an ally in the war on terror as it is the central front in the war on terror. Our two biggest enemies, Al Qaeda and Iran are being defeated and/or contained in the region. The democratically elected government in Iraq does not want to be controlled by Iran nor does it want to be subjected to the violence that Al Qaeda offers.

The National Command Authorities strategic objectives are close to being fully realized in Iraq. Once these strategic objectives cannot be compromised can we begin to withdraw forces from the region. Timetables have never worked in war or nation building. Benchmarks have been set and are being met, but Iraqis will meet them on their own timeline. Our operational mission as a military is to continue to push them towards accomplishment and assist with security so they can continue to pursue these benchmarks. Tactically, this comes down to defeating Al Qaeda and other militants in the region and assisting the government with providing essential services.

It has taken awhile in Iraq for all parties to come online to pursue the same strategic, operational, and tactical objective, but pursuing they are all doing now. With enemy's of these objectives in full retreat we will see rapid expansion and resolution of our, now combined, objectives.

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Red Herring Fatwas

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

So what happens if the western media can’t spin or sensationalize events in Iraq when not much is happening? Why, they make it up!

The Associated Press put out a wire report yesterday hinting that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is about to declare jihad against the Americans. Whhhhhaaaaaat???

Mr Kazimi goes on to show how the AP misinterpreted Sistani's statements. Even more telling is this remark.

So let me pull rank here and tell you all that I’ve met Sistani. In fact, I sat in on an hours-long conversation between Sistani, his eldest son who runs his father’s daily affairs, Adil Abdul-Mahdi (Iraq’s current Vice-President) and Ahmad Chalabi. This happened in the early spring of 2004. It was an illuminating discussion that delved into law-making, the role of Islam, history, international relations and of course, gossip.

An interesting read indeed.

For a full read, click here.

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Iran cleric blasts US-Iraqi military agreement

From Yahoo via AFP.

A senior Iranian cleric on Friday slammed as treachery to Islam a security accord due to be sealed between Baghdad and Washington on the presence of American troops in Iraq.

This agreement shows that "Iraqi tribunals will not be able to judge American military personnel and employees of firms who work for the US military," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said during weekly prayers in Tehran.

Khatami then went on to say.

"American forces will keep the ministries of defence, interior and intelligence under their supervision for 10 years... and will be able to have private jails in Iraq," he said.

Khatami charged that the accord will allow US troops to launch attacks from Iraq "against any country that backs terrorist groups."

"It is open-ended slavery. It is the worst humiliation.

"Any hand that signs such an agreement will be considered by Iran as a traitor to Islam, to Shiism and to the Iraqi people," he added.

I find Khatami's statements interesting and telling.

Obviously, he is concerned that the US will have private jails in Iraq which will hold terrorists and supporters of terrorists. The US will be able to attack countries from Iraq which back terrorists and those countries will be humiliated by the US. Finally, if Iraq signs the upcoming SOFA agreement, Iran will consider Iraq a traitor to Iranian Shiism.

If this isn't considered a military, political, and diplomatic victory in Iraq, what is?

Iran will be and is becoming more contained every day and it does not quite frankly like it. It will have US forces on both its western and eastern borders. It will have aircraft carriers along it southern coast. Economic sanctions are having an impact on its country because it refuses to give up nuclear production and state support of terrorism in the region. Its one ally in the region is discussing a formal declaration of peace with Israel.

Again, it is extremely interesting how much different a year makes. The US is in a position of authority again in the region. We could have cut and run last year and lost much of our international clout and prestige, but President Bush decided to surge combat forces to the region. Now, almost one year later from the start of the surge, Iraq is mostly secure, Al Qaeda in Iraq is effectively defeated, the Mahdi Army is subdued, Israel and Syria are discussing a peace treaty, and Iran is feeling contained and alone.

We can argue all day about whether we should have gone into Iraq in 2003. But in 2008, it appears the Bush Doctrine is well on its way to solving many long standing situations in the Middle East.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Troops Welcomed In Sadr City

From the Washington Post.

Iraqi soldiers moved unhindered through Baghdad's vast Sadr City district on Wednesday as Shiite militiamen who have long controlled the area faded from view and schools and businesses began to reopen after weeks of strife.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing an increasingly successful effort to contain the militias of his Shiite rivals and to exercise authority over areas where Iraqi forces were once unwelcome. The strategy has won Maliki admiration from Sunni politicians and from U.S. and British officials, who credit him with exerting some of the political will necessary to achieve reconciliation.

Residents of Sadr City not only welcomed Iraqi Troops but gave them flowers and Korans. Iraqi troops have greatly increased in capacity in the last year thanks to the surge of US forces in the country. What does one Iraqi Soldier think?

Sayah said he was relieved that U.S. troops were not playing a central role in the operation, which would have provoked the militias. He said U.S. forces should leave Iraq. "I think it's time," he said. "The Iraqi army has proven itself."

Almost one year after the official start of the surge of US forces, the Iraqi Army now has the capacity to move into militia onclaves in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul. Iraqi forces are now controlling their country. Al Qaeda is for all practical purposes defeated. Sadr's militia is standing down. Those elements which rise up against Iraqi forces are quickly killed or detained.

I agree with Sayah. I would now be appropriate to begin contemplating a slow and methodical withdraw of US forces from Iraq as capacity of Iraqi forces increases. Notice I did not say a withdraw of US forces should begin right now. But now, the US military is in a position to begin transitioning security more and more to Iraqi forces. As Iraqi forces prove they can maintain the peace in their country, US forces should begin to come home and not be replaced.

If we would have withdrawn one short year ago, trust in US forces in the Middle East would have been severely shakened. Now, one year later, having defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq and subdued Sadr's militia, US forces can begin a methodical withdraw knowing that the blood of over 4000 Soldiers has not been in vain. A vibrant democracy is taking hold in Iraq which is protected by a strong, robust Iraqi military.

For a full read, click here.

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Commander: Al-Qaida in Iraq is at its weakest

From Yahoo via AP.

The al-Qaida terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview.

The story continues with,

"Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted al-Qaida, probably to a level that we haven't seen at any time in my experience," said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

LTG Dempsey was in Iraq in command of 1AD and later trained Iraqi Security Forces. He has seen their capacity grow to the extent that PM Maliki can now maneuver his forces into Basra and subdue Special Groups and Mahdi Army, maneuver his forces in Sadr City and make the Mahdi Army stand down, and finally his latest battle in Mosul where over 1000 insurgents were captured in less than a week.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Government Launches Operation to Expel al-Qaeda from Mosul

From The Jamestown Foundation.

After four days of a preparatory operation code-named Za’eer al-Asad (The Lion’s Roar), Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to supervise a new military operation against al-Qaeda in Ninawa (Nineveh) province (al-Jazeera, May 14). Al-Maliki was accompanied by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir al-Obaidi and a group of Iraqi military commanders. General Abdul Karim Khalaf, the spokesman of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, announced that Iraqi forces had started operation Umm al-Rabi’ain (The Mother of Two Springs) to chase al-Qaeda and the extremists affiliated with it out of Mosul. General Khalaf said “a second operation with the name Umm al-Rabi’ain (the nickname of Mosul, known for its long spring season) has started targeting those who committed crimes against Iraqi security forces and civilians in Mosul.”

Fadhil Ali goes on to state,

In fact, the major leaders of the insurgent groups appear to have left Mosul two months before the operation (Azzaman, May 17; Almalafpress.net, May 16). The repeated early announcements of the operations offered a chance for the insurgents to take precautions and move out of the region. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is known for avoiding major combat confrontations—its tactics rely mainly on fighting with small groups only. It is clear that the Iraqi government could not achieve a decisive victory with two quick military operations against al-Qaeda in Ninawa province.

However, Bill Roggio, at The Long War Journal quotes MND-N Commander, MG Hertling as stating,

Of those captured, "just under 200" Tier 1 and Tier 2 al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq operatives have been detained, said Major General Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North said during a briefing on May 15.

There have been some very big fishes caught," Hertling said. Tier 1 operatives are operational leaders. Tier 2 operatives are foreign fighters or weapons facilitators, bomb makers, and cell leaders

One article states key leaders fled prior to the battle. Another states just under 200 Tier 1 and 2 terrorists have been captured. Both articles quote a little over 1000 insurgents have been captured. I tend to believe the MND-N Commander, MG Hertling. 200 Tier 1 and 2 Al Qaeda members captured is indeed significant. Since this article, more Al Qaeda members have been captured.

Iraqi and US security forces continue to roll up al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq’s network in Mosul and great Ninewa province. The military said it captured an additional 56 “wanted men” during operations over the past two days. On May 16, the Iraqi military said it captured 1,068 suspects.

The US military reported 11 additional al Qaeda fighters and leaders were captured over the weekend. On May 17, Iraqi and Coalition forces captured a weapons facilitator for senior al Qaeda leaders in Mosul. On May 18, Coalition special operations teams captured eight al Qaeda operatives. Today, Coalition special operations teams captured two al Qaeda operatives.

More importantly,

Few of those captured have been released at this time, according to the Iraqi military. Of the 1135 insurgents captured in Ninewa, only 151 have been released, a police source told Voices of Iraq.

Major operations are ongoing in Mosul. Significant high level terrorists have been captured, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200. 1153 insurgents have been captured in about a week. Only 151 have been released.

The significance of this operation is clear in and of itself. However, it is more significant when looked at strategically in conjunction with other operations ongoing. Iraqi forces have taken control of Basra and continue to pursue Special Groups and Mahdi forces in this region. Sadr signed a ceasefire and Iraqi troops are moving into the heart of Sadr City. Now Mosul is offering up over 1000 insurgents.

From 25 March 2008 to 20 May 2008, PM Maliki and his Iraqi Army cleared and secured the cities of Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah. He then moved into Sadr City. After a peace intitiative signed by Sadr, the Iraqi Army is now moving wholesale into Sadr City to clear and secure it. Now PM Maliki's forces have captured 1153 insurgents in Mosul, of which about 200 are Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Say what you want, but PM Maliki is showing his muscle and the ability of the Iraqi Army to secure its country. His forces have assumed control of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth largest cities in Iraq which are under contention (not counting Kurdish north). Major areas under contention (Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul) have fallen or are in the process of falling out of insurgent control.

Absolutely stunning, to say the least. In two months, his forces have taken down all major threats from the three groups challenging democracy in Iraq, Al Qaeda, Special Groups, and the Mahdi Army.

Yet, the MSM is not covering this unprecedented victory.

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Fascinating: The Jihadists Admit Defeat in Iraq

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Furthermore, I want to point out something even more critical: this defeat is not only a tactical one for the jihadists; this defeat is strategic in essence since it snuffs out their dream of resurrecting the caliphate, the raison d’être of modern jihad.

Mr. Kazimi points out the reduction of Al Qaeda attacks (from their own website).

He demonstrated that while Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq could claim 334 operations in Nov. 06 and 292 in May 07, their violent output dropped to 25 in Nov. 07 and 16 so far in May 08. Keep in mind that these assessments are based on Al-Qaeda's own numbers.

From 334 to 16 in May 08. Mr. Kazimi point out the that this defeat is not only tactical, but strategic due to Iraq being central to Al Qaeda's fulfillment of the caliphate.

For a full read, click here.

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ANALYSIS: Syrian-Israeli contacts worry Iran, Hezbollah

From M & C.

'Will there be another war this summer?' is a question frequently heard in Arab capitals these days....

Secret, indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel - held since April 2007 with Turkish mediation and publicly confirmed by Turkey and Syria for the first time last week - make no sense at all in this context. Or do they?

Arab commentators conjecture that Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is negotiating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in order to break Syria's tight embrace with Iran, Israel's archenemy.

A commentator from the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat wrote that by concluding a peace treaty with Syria, Israel could 'strike Iran in the middle of the heart' and also weaken Hezbollah, which is said to be still getting Iranian weapons via Syria.

If this peace treaty is successful, Assad would get the Golan Heights back, end international isolation, and possibly stave off any further investigation of the Rafik Hariri murder. Israel would get a peace treaty with a as yet unfriendly neighbor to the northeast which would theoretically also weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon resulting in a secure north. There exists a lot of win-win in this agreement for both sides. The fact that a deal has not been struck between the two parties has probably less to do with the benefits both sides would gain from a treaty then the distrust of each of the participants for the other side.

The treaty with Syria would allow Israel to focus on the Iranian nuclear issue without worrying about attacks from the North since Syria would theoretically not violate a new agreement and risk loosing the Golan Heights again. In turn, Hezbollah's power would be greatly reduced without a big brother resupplying them. We need not forget the fact that while Hezbollah did a good job of thwarting an Israeli offensive, they themselves never went on the offensive. Specifically, Hezbollah is a purely defensive entity. The only thing they could do to Israel is fire a whole bunch of rockets into Israel. Doing so without Syrian support would be risky. Once Israel finished with Iran, they could turn their Air Force back onto southern Lebanon.

Undoubtedly, Iran knew these negotiations were ongoing which begs the question. What was their reaction? Amir Taheri reported earlier that PM Maliki did not move into Basra on the offensive, but it was instead a defensive maneuver aimed at limiting Iranian consolidation of power in the south. If true, Iran's reaction was to consolidate power across Southern Iraq extending the Persian reach to Jordan in its quest westward towards the Mediterranean. If successful, this advance would have surely reduced the likelihood of Assad negotiating a peace with Israel. However, it proved unsuccessful. Iran is now weakened and within a few weeks, we hear of secret negotiations between Syria and Israel. In addition, attacks against Iranian sponsored groups, namely the Mahdi Army, continue in their strongholds of Sadr City and Basra, further weakening Iranian efforts across Iraq.

Turkey is not only a mediator, but it is an active participant as it cleans up the PKK problem in the north. While no state in the region wants a fully independent Kurdistan, one which is part of a greater Iraq is less threatening and acceptable for not only states, but apparently the Kurds also. Complete independence for Kurds can be something worked out in decades to come.

Last December (2007) PM Maliki's government signed a "memorandum of agreement" with the Kurdish and Sunni leaders which layed the groundwork for the continuation of PM Maliki reign after national elections in 2009. His recent action into Basra not only further consolidated his power in Iraq with the Kurds and Sunnis, but also limited Iranian influenced control in the South which is why the Sunnis just came back to the government.

Currently, Iraqi diplomats are in Iran proving to the government Iranian sponsored unrest in Iraq. While Iran can continue to deny, the fact that Iraqi officials are showing the Iranian leaders what proof they have is significant in and of itself. It shows the international community, and more importantly Sunni dominated countries bordering Iraq in the Middle East, that while Iraq will be Shiite dominated from now on, it will not be a puppet of Iran. Why is all this important?

In order for a Shiite led Iraq to persist for decades to come, the Iraqi leadership has to show its neighbors it is not a puppet of Iran else it will be in constant conflict with its Sunni neighbors, most notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Turkey. Preventing Iranian control in the south clearly showed Sunni neighbors this fact which is why Iraqi Sunnis shortly afterward returned to the government. Showing Iran directly further proves this point, not to Iran who knows darn well what it is doing in Iraq, but to Iraqi's Sunni neighbors. The uncertainty of continued US presence in the region is only intensifying this diplomacy since that the US sponsored surge has allowed the Iraqi government the breathing room to consolidate power and grow its Army to defend not only its borders, but its interior.

I have stated before The Battle of Basra completely changed the dynamics in the region. The new dynamics are now starting to show themselves. Iran is becoming further isolated which is what all Middle East players wanted. Iraq is showing its independence from Iran and is building up its future role as a mediator between Sunni dominated governments and Iran in the future. No government, not even an uncommitted US has the military to take over Iran; hence, the only way to prevent further confrontation in the Middle East is to continue diplomatic pressure on Iran to further isolate it, just like Syria for the last few years. Syria, seeing the writing on the wall, is closer to peace with Israel in hopes of resecuring control of the Golan Height.

The sacrificial lambs in these latest developments are the Mahdi Army, Hezbollah, the PKK, and Al Qaeda. The beneficiaries are a stable democratic Iraq, a stable democratic Lebanon, a stable Turkish southern border which is doing a banner business with the Kurdish north who can focus its efforts on getting into the EU, a Syria which will be allowed back in the international community, Saudi Arabia and Jordan which no longer have to worry about a strong extremist salafist movement within their borders or a strong Shiite Theocracy in the east, and finally a free-independent Israel which can in the near term focus on Iranian nuclear aspirations and then later on an independent West Bank now that it has a new peace treaty with a former unfriendly neighbor, Syria.

While none of this could have been planned in March 2003 when the United States went to war in Iraq, it was a major tenet of the Bush Doctrine that a democracy in the heart of the Middle East would lead to a more friendly and stable Middle East. If even half of the above comes to pass, the invasion of Iraq would have accomplished its objectives.

The trouble makers of the Middle East will have been tamed. Iraq was made into a democracy. Syria is being turned away from Iran. Iran is being further isolated with not only enemies on its borders, but now US friendly enemies on its borders. Israel is seeing more friendly neighbors in a democractic Lebanon, a peace wanting Syria, and a Saudi government who, below the scenes, is cooperating with them against terrorists. Saudi Arabia is also able for the first time to confront Wallabism as intellectual turbulence created by a violent Al Qaeda has Muslims the world over wondering how they created a force which kills not only fellow Muslims but also innocent women and children. Simultaneously, the Great Satan, the United States, has gained international respect since it is shouldering the military burden of cleaning up the mess which was the Middle East.

Not a bad two terms for President Bush to say the least. The battles currently ongoing are either part of World War IV, continuing battles of the Cold War, or the final battles of World War II, but that is for another article. Whichever proves to be correct, it is why I have always stated that we are doing the Lord's work in with military operations Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic operations in the Middle East. Thank God President Bush had enough faith to not listen to defeatist liberals who wanted to pull defeat from the jaws of victory and defiantly executed a surge of forces in Iraq which again, by everything above, has been a resounding success, not only for Iraq, but the greater Middle East, which by the way, was exactly what was intended as part of his Greater Middle East Initiative, which most pundits would say failed, or has it.....

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Iraqis begin to "despise" the Mahdi Army in Baghdad's Rusafa district

From Bill Ardolino at The Long War Journal filing the story from Baghdad, Iraq after interviewing locals in Rusafa. Citizens are beginning to turn away from the Mahdi Army and towards Iraqi Security Forces. One of several similar quotes:

“Originally the Jaish al Mahdi (Mahdi Army) in our area used to deceive people by using the name of the religion to do their purposes,” said Dhia, Hassan’s executive officer. “They were all corrupted. They have history in crime, robberies, murders, rapes and all kinds of bad things. They even reached the level of kidnapping people and demanding ransoms just because they have money. It didn’t matter if he is Shia or Sunni; just because he has money. They gave a bad reputation for Islam.”

From another Iraqi:

“Right now because of the fighting Sadr City, people have started to despise [the Mahdi Army] because of the situation they created,” said “Rammie,” an Army interpreter raised and living in Rusafa. “People have started to know the truth of [the Mahdi Army] as kidnappers, killers, car-jackers and agents of the Iranian government. But the recent fighting against the [Iraqi security forces] means they are also against the government. They are not trying to just fight the invasion forces as they claim, but they fight whoever interferes with their mafia activity.”

These are two key points why the Mahdi Army is suffering from lack of recruits. Their actions are against Islam and against the democratic government. Another quote shows distrust for Sadr's forces due to Iranian connections. These are all fissures which ISF and GOI elements should use to decrease Sadr's influence in Iraq.

For a full read, click here.

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Command and control center of armed militias in Sadr city bombed, destroyed

From KUNA.

The U.S. army in Iraq reported on Saturday that its troops and Iraqi forces bombed and destroyed today a centre for the leadership of the armed militias in Sadr City, north-east of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Doesn't sound like the Mahdi Army is fairing very well in Sadr City.

For a full read, click here.

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Al-Qaeda is dwindling in Afghanistan and Iraq

From The Daily Star of Lebanon.

The most interesting discovery during a visit to Jalalabad, where Osama bin Laden planted his flag in 1996, is that Al-Qaeda seems to have all but disappeared. The group is on the run, too, in Iraq, and that raises some interesting questions about how to pursue this terrorist enemy in the future.

No only is Al Qaeda's presence reduced in the Jalalabad, it is also in the north, east, and southern part of Afghanistan. Now, insurgents in Afghanistan are a loose collection of insurgent groups, mostly linked to historic warlords, but not a centrally controlled organization. In Iraq, we see much of the same.

Traveling in Iraq this year, I've heard similar accounts of Al-Qaeda's demise there. That stems from two factors: the revolt by Sunni tribal leaders against Al-Qaeda's brutal intimidation; and the relentless hunt for its operatives by US Special Forces. As the flow of human and technical intelligence improves and the US learns to fuse it for quick use by soldiers on the ground, the anti-terrorist rollback accelerates.

For a full read, click here.

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Are Sadr and al-Qaeda Teaming Up in Iraq?

From Omar Fadhil.

A few days ago, there were two suspiciously coordinated statements emerging from Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr made open-war threats followed immediately by a similar threat from al-Qaeda.

As they say, there is usually no smoke without fire.

For a full read, click here.

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How We'll Know When We've Won

From Frederick W. Kagan at The Weekly Standard. Mr. Kagan reviews the war's objectives in Iraq.

Virtually everyone who wants to win this war agrees: Success will have been achieved when Iraq is a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia.

So, how are we and the Iraqi government doing in these areas?

Stability. Violence is the most obvious indicator of instability and the easiest to measure. The fact that violence has fallen dramatically in Iraq since the end of 2006 is evidence of improving stability. But critics are right to point out that areas tend to be peaceful both when government forces control them completely and when insurgents control them completely. Violence can drop either because the government is winning or because insurgents are consolidating their gains. So in addition to counting casualties and attacks, it is necessary to evaluate whether government control has been expanding or contracting. In fact, it has expanded dramatically over the past 15 months.

Not a lot of argument about increased stability in Iraq. What about representative government?

Representative government. The Iraqi government is the product of two elections. The Sunni Arabs boycotted the first, with the result that Iraq's provincial councils and governors do not reflect its ethno-sectarian make-up. The second saw a large Sunni Arab turnout and the seating of a multiethnic, multisectarian government in Baghdad. The Iraqi government recently passed a law calling for provincial elections later this year, and the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Steffan de Mistura, has been consulting with Baghdad about the details of the election, including efforts to ensure that the various committees overseeing it are not unduly influenced by militias or political parties. Surveys show that the Iraqis are nearly unanimous in their desire to vote, particularly in Sunni areas. The Anbar Awakening has turned into a political movement, introducing political pluralism into Sunni Arab politics for the first time. Similar movements, including the splintering of Moktada al-Sadr's "Sadrist Trend," are underway more haltingly among the Shia.

Counter arguments can be brought about a representative government, but provincial elections later this year and national elections next year will show whether or not a representative government exists and can transition in Iraq. What about terroritial control?

Control of territory. The restoration of large urban and rural areas formerly held by insurgents and militias to government control is a key indicator of Iraqi progress. And there are others: the Maliki government's determination to clear Basra and Sadr City of militia influence; Iraqi operations to clear Mosul of al Qaeda fighters; the dramatic growth of the Iraqi Security Forces in 2007 and the further growth underway in 2008. There is anecdotal confirmation of this progress, such as the dramatic decline in the number of illegal militia-controlled checkpoints, most of them set up in and around Baghdad in 2006 for purposes of control, extortion, and murder.

Again, there can be no argument here. Iraqi Security Forces are controlling more and more of their territory as they become larger and more capable.

Orientation toward the West. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in March 2008 and was warmly received, prompting concern in the United States that the Iraqi government was tilting toward Tehran....

A closer examination shows this to be false....

It has asked the United Nations to endorse the Multinational Force mission supporting it, a mission that includes American forces--but not Iranian ones. It has requested a bilateral security agreement with the United States--and not with Iran. It has determined to purchase American weapons and equipment for its armed forces, to replace the Warsaw Pact gear it had been using--and has not requested equipment from Iran or its principal international suppliers, Russia and China. Baghdad is organizing, training, and equipping its military and police forces to be completely interoperable with the United States--and not with Iran.

Mr Kagan makes a great point here. Iraq will stand with the United States if the United States stands with Iraq. They have clearly showed this fact to be true.

An ally in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has killed many more Iraqis than Americans. Iraq has eight army divisions--around 80,000 troops--now in the fight against al Qaeda, and another three--around 45,000 troops--in the fight against Shia extremists. Tens of thousands of Iraqi police and National Police are also in the fight. Thus, there are far more Iraqis fighting al Qaeda and Shia militias in Iraq than there are American troops there. Easily ten times as many Iraqi as Pakistani troops are fighting our common enemies. At least three times as many Iraqi soldiers and police as Afghan soldiers and police are in the fight. And many times more Iraqi troops are engaged in the war on terror than those of any other American ally. In terms of manpower engaged, and sacrifice of life and limb, Iraq is already by far America's best ally in the war on terror.

This example clearly shows Iraqi are in the fight with the United States. They have committed more troops to battling not only Al Qaeda, but also Shiite extremists. Granted the war is in their country, but they are not sitting back like they did in 2006. They are now actively pursuing Al Qaeda and Shiite militias.

From all these facts, it is clear that the Government of Iraq is well on its way to being a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia.

For a thorough read of all of Mr. Kagan's points, click here.

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Iraqi forces see victory in Basra

From Times Online.

Iraqi soldiers are standing proud in Basra one month after launching a surprise offensive to wipe out murderous gangs of Shia militants that had been allowed to flourish under Britain’s watch.

Many of them say the operation has boosted their confidence, but the militiamen warn that the only reason the fledgling Iraqi army had any success was because they continue to observe a ceasefire order by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

This article is posted by Deborah Haynes from Basra. Yes, Basra. To prove it, one of the photos shows here sitting on a tank, specifically a T-55 Tank.

So, what is the significance of a T-55 Tank? The Iraqi Army only owns T-72s. So, where did the T-55 come from? Must be Sadr. This begs the question of where did Sadr get it? Interesting to say the least.....

For a full read, click here.

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Esteem for US rises in Asia, thanks to Iraq war

From The Austrailian.

THE US war in Iraq has strengthened its strategic position, especially in terms of key alliances, and the only way this could be reversed would be if it lost the will to continue the struggle and abandoned Iraq in defeat and disarray.

Interesting. And what would cause a weakening of the American strategic position?

Green cautions that a US failure in Iraq, a retreat and leaving chaos in Iraq behind, would gravely damage US credibility in Asia.

So much for the defeatist liberal members of Congress who recommended we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

For a full read, click here.

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Iranian arms aid 'visible' in Basra

From the Washington Times. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing evidence continues to mount that Iran is continuing to supply arms to insurgents.

"The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It's plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way," he said. "In these last couple years, you know, that tensions continue to rise, Iran does not respond, and in fact they seem to be ratcheting it up in terms of their support for terrorism."

The admiral said the fighting in Iraq's southern oil hub disclosed that Iran had a significant "level of involvement" in the insurgency.

Not only was Iran caught with their pants down when the Iraqi Army came in and cleared Basra in the last month of Special Group, Mahdi forces, and criminal, but they also discovered the great extent of Iranian arms support in the south. General Petraeus is due to give testimony to Congress soon showing the level of Iranian support for the insurgency in Iraq. While Adm Mullen stated,

"The solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure (against Iran)," Mullen said.

Still, while Mullen acknowledged that launching a third conflict in that region would be extremely stressful for US forces, he said he has reserve capabilities in the Navy and the Air Force for any needed military action.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said.

The US does not seek another war in the Middle East. However, it cannot let Iran continue to prop up the insurgency in Iraq. An insurgency needs an unassailable base, which is now completely taken away from both Al Qaeda and Special Groups. In addition, to persist, it needs external support. Iran, clearly, continues to provide this support.

Adm Mullen is doing the right thing. Gen Petraeus will clearly lay out support for insurgents in Iraq in upcoming testimony showing they are still delivering arms. Adm Mullen is also clearing showing his hand saying that while ground forces are committed, he has a whole Air Force and Navy which is not.

Hopefully, PM Maliki's push into southern Iraq to include the final phases of clearing Basra, the embarrassment suffered by the Iranian government in the south not only in terms of exposing their continued support of arms, but also their collapse when confronted by Iraqi Army forces, and finally Adm Mullen stating we still have a lot of reserve combat power will get Iran to pull support for the insurgency in Iraq. If not, with sanctions, ground military action in southern Iraq, this information campaign, and diplomatic pressue all failing, we may have only one solution, an aerial campaign against Iran.

The future at this point is up to Iran.

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One month after the launch of Operation Cavalry Charge...

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Deborah Haynes of the The Times becomes the first western journalist to see the situation in Basra with her own eyes, exactly one month to the day since the launch of Operation Cavalry Charge. She is taken along on a tour of Hayyaniya of all places by Gen. Fraiji, who's been described by some anonymous British military sources in earlier media reports as a "dangerous lunatic"; oddly enough, he doesn't come off that way in Haynes' piece.

Haynes paints the picture of a city that has undergone dramatic changes for the better.

So, Basra is not the debacle all western journalists have been reporting. In fact, it appears to have been a resounding success. Mr. Kazimi also point out something else which is quite interesting.

Radio Dijla is reporting that the Emiratis have handed over Ismail al-Wa'ili, the brother of Basra's governor, who is wanted by an Iraqi arrest warrant on charges of oil smuggling and other criminal activity. I had heard that he was hiding in Kuwait rather than Dubai ever since Operation Cavalry Charge began. The story of the arrest warrant is true but I'm unsure about the handover, but if it checks out then that's an indication that Maliki is also moving against the Fadhila Party.

I find this fact interesting. The Fadhila (Virtue) Party pulled out of the Maliki coalition in March 2007 and was recently looking at re-entering the Maliki coalition. Now, just a few days later, Maliki's forces possibly arrested Wa'ili's brother.

This can only mean two things. The Fadhila Party did not reach concensus with Maliki's coalition and he is having his brother arreted or the Iraqi Army is just plainly going after all law breakers in Basra. From accounts, it appears to be the later. The Fadhila Party can still rejoin the coalition; however, Maliki is bringing the rule of law to Iraq. If you are associated with militias or criminal elements, then the Iraqi Army is taking these people down.

It will be interesting to see if there is any linkage between the Wa'ili and Iran as this story unfolds.

For a full read, click here.

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One Step on the Road to Defeating the Islamists

From Douglas Farah.

One of the more interesting things to me in the recent spate of statements by Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders is al Qaeda’s need now to constantly and viciously attack other Islamist tendencies, particularly Iran and Shities, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood-linked Hamas.

In addition to the attacks, the recent communications show two things: a clear awareness of current events, and the ability to comment on them quickly; and a clear lack of understanding of how the world really operates.

I have been wonder why Zawahiri decided recently to switch to such public rebukes of Hamas and Iran. Mr. Farah has his own views on why this is occurring. I do not necessarily agree with his reasoning, but I do agree with the overall outcome, it can only be good news to us.

All of this points to some growing isolation by al Qaeda and its core leadership, from others outside their group. The splintering of the Islamist groups that share the same overarching objective-our obliteration-can only be good news.

For a full read, click here.

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South Baghdad families returning in droves (Baghdad)

From MNF-I.

Thanks to improved security, more than half of those who fled their homes in South Baghdad because of violence have since returned home, according to Multi-National Division – Center records.

“Once people are convinced that security is good in their area, they come back,” said Maj. Mark Bailey, the officer-in-charge of the Multi-National Division – Center governance cell. “If they own a business, they re-open their business, which helps the economy.”

Of the approximately 18,700 Iraqis who left their homes, some 10,450 have returned.

Something you will not see reported in the MSM.

For a full read, click here.


US finds new Iran-made weapons in Iraq

From Khaleej Times.

The U.S. military says it has found caches of newly made Iranian weapons in Iraq, leading senior officials to think that Iran is still shipping weapons to Iraq, even though it pledged not to, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Just how new?

Officials in Baghdad and Washington said the newly made arms, consisting of mortars, rockets and explosives, had date stamps indicating they were manufactured in the past two months, the Journal reported.

For a full read, click here.

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Gap opens between Al Qaeda and allies

From Josh Meyer writing for the LA Times.

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group's own communications.

A litany of complaints target Osama bin Laden's network and its affiliates for their actions in Iraq and North Africa, emphasis on suicide bombings instead of political action and tepid support for, or outright antagonism toward, militant groups pressing the Palestinian cause.

These complaints show the increasing "intellectual turbulence" occurring within the extremist Muslim community. This phenomenon is discussed in detail here, here, and here.

Zawahiri is attempting to limit this "intellectual turbulence" with his Q & A sessions. It is this rift between extremists which Coalition forces must use and exploit as an information operation as part of the instruments of national power to defeat Al Qaeda.

There already exists speculation that Al Qaeda is having a hard time sustaining recruitment to continue its war in Afghanistan and Iraq. With lower recruitment, some comes lower economic support. In addition, Al Qaeda's popularity is waning in Pakistan as it has in Iraq as citizens are seeing the extreme violence which Al Qaeda perpetuates.

It appears this rift is expanding as more and more Muslims, to include past extremists, are asking tough questions and not getting good answers from the Al Qaeda leadership.

The surge of American forces in Iraq not only allowed the Al Anbar Awakening to rise and spread across Iraq, but it also allowed this "intellectual turbulence" spread outside of Al Anbar into the rest of Iraq and now take center stage among Al Qaeda extremists worldwide.

As Iraq continues to prosper and increase the wealth of its citizens through freedom and democracy, many Muslims are beginning to question Al Qaeda's motives more and more while questioning American's motives less and less.

It is difficult to say the US invaded Iraq for oil when Iraqis are passing oil laws and negotiating contracts with many oil companies not of American origin.

It is difficult to keep recruitment and revenues up when Al Qaeda in Iraq's spectacular bombings are killing 20, 30, 0r 40 or more Muslims at a time, to include defenseless women and children.

It is difficult to suppress anti-Al Qaeda feelings when the popular Bhutto was gunned down in cold blood by extremists. It was well known the US worked within the Pakistani government to allow not only her return but also the chance for her to run again for Prime Minister, only to be gunned down by extremists. The assassination of Bhutto was truly a highly visible symbol of extremists killing innocent women and children across the Muslim world.

Al Qaeda's message of violent jihad is beginning to fall more and more on deaf ears. The Great Satan is not so evil anymore as it has brought freedom and prosperity to not only Shiites, but also to Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq. These three major groups are seeing Americans not as an occupier, but as a builder of countries and societies. American is clearly seen as a just arbiter in Iraq between these three groups.

If we had cut and run a year ago, Al Qaeda's crescent in northern and western Iraq would be growing right now. Iran's crescent would have control over all of central Iraq. Instead, President Bush showed Muslims he will stick with them to allow a democracy to foster and grow in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda only got more violent. Both actions, working in tandem, created the "intellectual turbulence" we see today.

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Ultimatum issued to Mahdi Army in Basrah; 15 Mahdi fighters killed in Sadr City

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

The senior-most Iraqi general in charge of the security operation in Basrah has issued an ultimatum for wanted Mahdi Army leaders and fighters to surrender in the next 24 hours as the Iraqi and US military ignore Muqtada al Sadr's threat to conduct a third uprising. US troops killed 15 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad yesterday and have killed 56 fighters since Sadr issued his threat last weekend.

In Basrah, General Mohan al Freiji, the chief of the Basrah Operational Commander and leader of the security operation in the province, has issued warrants "for 81 people, including senior leaders of the Mahdi militia, and they have 24 hours to give up," The Associated Press reported.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Army soldiers discover large cache with Iranian-marked weapons during Operation Charge of the Knights

From MNF-I. If anybody is wondering what is the purpose of Operation Charge of the Knights, one only has to read this story from MNF-I.

The Iraqi Army discovered a large weapons and munitions cache in a house located in the Al Hyyaniyah area of Basrah April 19.

Soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army discovered the cache during the search phase of Operation Charge of the Knights. The cache consisted of a large number of weaponry with Iranian markings.

The cache included a 240 mm high-explosive war-head and approximately 160 mortars. Some of which were less than 12 months old.

The cache also contained approximately 25 artillery shells, more than 20 complete improvised explosive devices, large quantities of IED components, several explosively formed projectiles and dozens of grenades and fuses. Also included was more than 20 blocks of plastic explosives, homemade anti-personnel mines packed with ball bearings, hundreds of meters of detonation cord, improvised rocket launching rails, and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition.

Let's put these dates into perspective. It is currently April 2008. President Bush announced the Surge of forces in Iraq in January 2007 of which the first Brigades arrived in February or March of 2007. The full complement of surge Brigade were on the ground and the Surge effectively started 15 June 2007. This story is dated 19 April 2008 and some munitions were less than 12 months old meaning they were manufactured in Iran after April 2007 and then transported to Iraq probably at the earliest May 2007 or possibly later. In August 2007, after a very public battle in Karbala, Sadr announces a ceasefire to allow US forces to help him rid his militia of rogue elements. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army continues to receive a supply of weapons from Iran.

As the surge is focusing on Al Qaeda in Iraq elements in and around Baghdad, the Iranian regime is stockpiling weapons in the south in support of the Mahdi Army and other Special Groups. By January 2008, the surge against Al Qaeda in Iraq is effectively winding down as it has been routed and focus is starting to shift to the next most powerful enemy, the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, in February 2008. Sadr announces a continuation of the ceasefire in February 2008.

Iran attempts a coup in Southern Iraq in March 2008 which PM Maliki blunts. In April 2008, the Iraqi Army is still clearing Basra and Sadr City after having secured the cities of Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah in March 2008. Iran's coup is blunted, and its Qods Forces Commander must come to Basra to personally assure the Iraqi General in charge of operations that his forces will be pulled out of Basra.

All of these actions by Iran are taking place while it is denying any involvement in Iraq, support of Special Groups, and support of the Mahdi Army.

One must wonder what Iran is doing with regards to nuclear weapons in its own coutnry if it is attempting to do all of this under the nose of the US and Iraqi government in southern Iraq, all the while saying its nuclear development is only for peaceful purposes.

I stated before, the Battle of Basra is a major strategic turning point in Iraq. It showed all external forces, both Al Qaeda and Iran, that the Iraqi Army, the Government of Iraq, and PM Maliki have the courage to defend their country at the risk of harming relationships with Iran, a neighbor and also a Shia led power. In addition, it showed the Iraqi Army can quickly be repositioned to affect an attempted coup while still maintaining order elsewhere in the country. Also, it showed Sistani would allow (and even approve) Shiite on Shiite attacks as long as it was happening to ensure the terroritorial integrity of Iraq. Finally, it showed the weakness of the Mahdi Army, and Sadr in particular, which PM Maliki is now capitalizing upon in Sadr City as his forces are seeking to dislodge the Mahdi Army from this last bastion of control in Iraq.

Far from showing PM Maliki's and the Iraqi Army's weakness, the Battle of Basra has shown both are willing and able to secure their country. It is no wonder the Iraqi Accord Front (the major Sunni bloc in government) just announced it would return to the government. It also appears the Iraqi List (headed by interim prime minister Iyad Allawi) and Al Fadila party (an offshoot of Sadr's Mahdi Army) will possibly be returning soon.

PM Maliki just showed Iran and its Special Groups, Sadr and his Madhi Army, and the Sunnis who once were associated with Al Qaeda that military coups are no longer possible in Iraq. If an element wants to have influence in Iraq, it must seek this influence politically within the frameworks of the constitution and through democratic elections. Militarism will no longer be tolerated. In fact, militarism will be put down by force.

While many mistake the Battle of Basra for a small tactical battle which some say the Iraqi Army lost, it has much larger operational (Iraqi Army able to reposition forces quickly) and strategic (rule of law back by a strong central government) consequences.

This undeniable fact is proved by the Qods Forces Commander personally coming to Iraq to validate a ceasefire, the Iraqi Accord Front, Iraqi List, and Fadila party looking to come back into the government, PM Maliki's continual push into Basra and Sadr City, Sadr's unheeded words that he will unleash his Madhi Army, and finally Al Qaeda in Iraq's yet unseen renewed terror.

Iran will continue to attempt re-establish its influence in Southern Iraq. Al Qaeda will continue to attempt re-establish its campaign of terror in the west and northwestern part of Iraq. However, people making progress in Iraq are doing so within the democratic framework established by the constitution, like the Kurds who will continue to work within the constitution and with the central government for semi-autonomy. Neighboring countries will continue to open embassys, to include Kuwait. The EU is even in the process of signing up for oil from Iraq.

The much feared month long offensive by Al Qaeda in Iraq has failed to materialize as will Iranian influence in Southern Iraq wain. Iran's remaining major influence, Sadr's militia, is being systematically dismantled. Al Qaeda is the walking dead with leaders being killed or captured daily. This is not an organization the Sunnis wish to rejoin, in fact, they are rejoining the government.

In this war where we have the strategic Corporol whos actions have far reaching ramifications, we have small battles like Basra which have large strategic implications. While the US was slow to realize this fact, it did realize it in late 2006 and adjusted its tactics with the surge in early 2007. Al Qaeda in Iraq still has not realized the implications of the strategic Corporol, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Iranian Special Groups may have just realized it, which is why Coalition forces have now shifted focus to these Special Groups.

As I have stated before, 2008 will be an interesting year for the Global War on Terror. It is shaping up to be an interesting year indeed. Al Qaeda is defeated in its central front and has changed tactics to blunt losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has lost a major underground effort in southern Iraq and is currently losing its voice in the Iraqi Parliament as Sadr's party will potentially be banned from participation in future elections. It may very well lose all influence if the Mahdi Army is defeated wholesale in Sadr City and Basra. The two Muslim extremists groups vying for power and control in the region have suffered major defeats at the hands of freedom and democracy, thanks to the Great Satan.

Iraq is truly becoming the beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007 and the defeat of Iran in the Battle of Basra in 2008 has assured this young democracy is alive, well, and will continue to influence other nations in the Middle East. President Bush's bold maneuver in the heart of the Middle East is paying off. A democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East is fast becoming a shining star which all other Middle Eastern country's will emulate.

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Violent Weekend Continues: 32 Shot, 6 Dead

From CBS.

A violent and deadly weekend continues.... At least 12 people have been shot, two of them killed, since Saturday morning. This comes after at least 20 people were shot, four of them killed, from Friday night through early Saturday.

One would think this article is talking about Baghdad, but it isn't. It is talking about Chicago.

By the way, the population of Chicago is about 2.8 million. Baghdad's population is about 6.5 million people, a little more than twice the size. Baghdad is in a war zone. Chicago is not. But the level of violence is similar per capita.

For a full read, click here.

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Operation Charge of the Knights begins phase 3 in Hyyaniyah

From MNF-I.

BASRA, Iraq – Operation Saulat al Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, began a new phase of operations April 19.

Phase 3 of the operation focuses on the criminal militia strongholds within the Hyyaniyah district area. Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st and 14th Infantry Divisions are conducting the deliberate clearance operation.

The operation began at approximately 6 a.m. when British artillery and US aircraft released ordnance against known criminal rocket and mortar sites west of Hyyaniyah.

British and American Military Transition Teams are working alongside Iraqi Army units to provide leaders with advice, access to surveillance and the ability to “call for fire” and other support, if needed.

“As with the earlier phases of Operation Charge of the Knights, this remains an Iraqi led, planned and executed mission,” said Major Tom Holloway, the British Army’s spokesman in southern Iraq. “Coalition troops are ready to provide support to Iraqi Security Forces as requested and required.”

Operation Charge of the Knights began on March 24.

For all those who believe MSM reports which say the Iraqi Security Forces pulled out of Basra with their heads between their legs, they continue to clear district in Basra. Today, they are entering Phase 3 of yet an undetermined number of phases to clear Basra of criminal elements and militias.

While the Mahdi Army laid down weapons and agreed to a unilateral ceasefire which the Iranian Qods Force Commander was dispatched to Iraq to directly validate, Iraqi Security Forces continue to clear, secure, and hold more and more districts in Basra. Those Mahdi Army forces which did not lay down their weapons and other criminal and militia elements continue to be rolled up.

It must be noted again what is going on operationally to have a strategic outcome. Baghdad is being secured by US and IA forces. Mosul (the second largest city) is being secured by IA and US forces. Basra (the third largets city) is being secured by IA forces with US/British assistance. The three largest cities in Iraq are being secured and criminal elements are being pushed out, whether they be Al Qaeda, Iranian sponsored, or just plain opportunistic thugs. Finally, the Sadr stronghold of Sadr City, in Baghdad is systematically being cleared of rogue elements. US forces in the region signaled a shift of focus from Al Qaeda to Special Groups almost a month ago. The battles are now happening.

It must also be remembered, the Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah within the first 48 hours of PM Maliki's surge into southern Iraq. Many of these represent the next largest cities in Iraq behind the top three noted above. These operations, along with operations ongoing in Basra is why an Iranian Qods Forces Commander was dispatched to Iraq to broker a Mahdi Army ceasefire. He had to at least keep what remaining elements under Sadr's command still existed in hopes of fighting another day.

Today, the New York Times is reporting,

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

Just last week, the New York Times reported on the dismal showing of Iraqi forces, mass defections within the Iraq Army, and resiliency of Sadr's forces. Now, just a week later, the New York Times is reporting the "last bastions" of Sadr's forces are being rolled up in Basra. What many miss, including the New York Times, is PM Maliki, after securing Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah within the first 48 hours and much of Basra within the same timeframe, demanded that the Iranian Qods Forces commander come to Basra to guarantee the surrender of Iranian-backed Special Groups, chiefly among them the Madhi Army. In addition, Sadr directly told his force to lay down their weapons.

Those groups now fighting against Iraqi Army forces now have no backing from Iran, as such they are being systematically destroyed. Of course the Iranian Ambassador is going to support the continual operations in Basra after its failed attempt to take over the southern part of the country. First, it is the only thing Iran can do to save a little face in the region by signaling it support for ongoing operations, now into their third week. Second, it main sponsored ally in the region, Sadr and his Madhi Army, have either been killed, captured, wounded, or disarmed in all the southern cites and is being systematically cleared in Basra and Sadr City.

What many people outside the region do not understand is Sistani's power and how it plays into this battle and the region in general. Tithes are given to sects which people in this region believe is their Ayatollah or spirtual ruler. The overwhelming plurality of Shiites in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon give their tithes to Sistani, not Hezbollah's Nasrallah nor Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor Sadr. The Badr Organization in the south is completely loyal to Sistani also. Religiously, Iran and Sadr now coming out in support of Sistani, who supports the Basra (and Sadr City) operations to disarm militias is the only logical thing Iran and Sadr can do to save face. The difference between Basra is it is a completely Iraqi led operation while the clearance of Sadr City, while Iraqi led, is seen as more US influenced. Hence the Iranian Ambassador can come out and claim "The Great Satan" is indiscriminantly killing civilians.

The battles for control of Southern Iraq and Sadr City is just plainly the next phase of the surge which initially focused on Al Qaeda and has now shifted to focus on Special Groups. Iran has seen its largest Special Groups element effectively wiped out in about 48 hours, with only Basra and Sadr City elements able to hold on longer. If the New York Time article cited above is correct, the "last bastions" of Basra are now under IA control, meaning Mahdi elements have been completely defeated in Basra. The next focus will be Sadr City and then possibly a larger effort in Mosul.

Following these actions, we should see low level insurgencies as Al Qaeda and Special Groups remnants attempt to regain some footing in their respective regions. However, provincial elections in October will drastically change the local landscape in Iraq and who controls the distribution of the country's oil wealth. Moving into national elections with a country which is rather secured, PM Maliki has a good chance of resuming his Prime Ministership as he will not only have the backing of a small but influential Shiite sect, but also have the backing of Sunni and Kurds, which he signed a memorandum of agreement with in December of 2007.

In sum, PM Maliki has consolidated power in Iraq. While his party does not have a militia, he now controls the Iraqi Security Forces, the largest and best equipped force in the region. He was able to do this by establishing agreements with both Sunnis and Kurds. His old alliances, namely Sadr, has now been formally dissolved and its militia is quickly being defeated in Basra and Sadr City. Al Qaeda is only a remnant of its former self, and its leaders are the walking dead. If they stay too long in one place they are ratted out by the Sons of Iraq and Special Forces teams move in to detain or kill them. Iran's attempt to co-op southern Iraq has failed wholesale and now they are actually publically supporting the Mahdi Army's distruction. Oil revenues into the Iraqi treasury are at an all time high, which Iran does not get its fair share due to sanctions. Major oil contracts have just been announced in Iraq. Iraq is now a net oil exporter. Finally, Iraqi Security forces are gaining in capacity and experience. Let there be no mistake why the two greenist divisions were put directly into the fight in Basra and Sadr City. It was to give them combat experience, which shortly, may very well be hard to come by in Iraq.

The future of Iraq has greatly changed not only in the last year during the American military surge, but also in the last three weeks during the Iraqi Army surge.

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Numbers, Accounts Get Disputed (Updated)

From Nibras Kazimi at Talisman Gate.

The Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Armed Services, Lt. Gen. Babekr Zebari (Kurd), disputed the numbers of “deserters” that was first announced by an Interior Ministry spokesman five days ago. Zebari, speaking to Radio Sawa yesterday (Arabic), alleged that only 144 soldiers had “fled from their duties” in the initial stages of the fighting—Operation Cavalry Charge is still in effect three weeks after its launch—adding that, in his opinion, this is a very low number that surprised the commanders who had anticipated larger numbers of desertions.

Again, over 30,000 Soldiers were involved in the fighting in Basra. If 1,300 deserted, it only represent 4% of the Soldiers which means 96% of the Soldiers stayed, fought, and are still fighting thru Basra. If the number is 144, then all the better. Similar divergent numbers come out of the Soldiers fighting in Sadr City. NYT states 80. Iraqi General states 3. But Nibras Kazimi points out the real issue.

I think herein lies the quandary: there’s a divergence between those who see these problems as fixable, which they are, and between those using them as evidence that the sky is falling. Surely, there are many things that need to be fixed in Iraq, but one should take heart that there are those working very hard to fix them and they are succeeding. But then there are others who’re holding their breaths for any trip-ups so that they can scream that things are hopeless. Within this latter category one can place all the recent reporting from Basra.

This is truly the case in Basra, Sadr City, and Iraq in general. A lot of things have improved greatly in the last year, but have failed to be mentioned by the MSM. The contrast is astronomical between what is being reported and what is really going on in Iraq, as Mr. Kazimi details in this article.

For a full read, click here.

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When Sons of Iraq grow up

From Gordon Alanko at The Long War Journal.

Many folks are wondering what to do with Sons of Iraq after security is established. Right now, Sons of Iraq number approximately 91,000 members. The Iraqi government has stated about 20,000 will be welcomed into security forces. But what about the other 71,000. Will they go back to being insurgents?

Mr. Alanko attempts to explain the future of the Sons of Iraq by examining the town of Hawr Rajab is a town in the Arab Jabour region just south of Baghdad. In Hawr Rajab, the US military has established a vocational school called the "Village of Hope".

The “Village of Hope,” as the school is now called, will graduate a class of 50 men every three months, after training them in a variety of disciplines. Instructors cover basic skills in masonry, concrete, general construction, plumbing, and electricity. Trainees are graded on a pass or fail basis, and receive a certificate of completion and hiring preference on projects in the village once they graduate.

So, what is the future of the Sons of Iraq? According to Mr. Alanko,

This, then, is the future of the Sons of Iraq: Having established security in their towns and villages, those that had jobs will return to them. Those who prefer to remain an armed assurer of the security of Iraq will move on to the academies and boot camps of the security forces, and those that remain will gain the skills they need to reverse the destruction of war.

The Sons of Iraq will either go back to what they were doing before the war, go into the security services, or go on to reverse the destructions of war after gaining the needed skills in the "Village of Hope". The vocational training in Hawr Rajab will undoubtedly become the model for other areas. All Sons of Iraq members cannot be accepted into the Iraqi Security Forces. Many will to maintain security. However, most will be taught and skilled in technologies which will rebuild their wartorn country.

The "Village of Hope" in Hawr Rajab is just another example of grass roots reconciliation taking place in Iraq. At the grass roots in Al Anbar is where reconciliation started. It has now grown national as Maliki has shown Sunnis he is willing and able to go after Shiite militias as an Iraqi leader and not as a leader of Shiites.

Iraq has drastically changed since the tyrannical rule of Saddam. The economic principles under a dictatorship vice the economic principles under a democracy are vastly different. We see this difference in the northern part of Iraq as rice farmers are no longer cultivating rice, but instead are heading to the city for more money and a different form of employment. We are beginning to see this change south of Baghdad in Hawr Rajab where Sons of Iraq are being trained in different vocations to rebuild their country after five years of war. We are seeing this difference in southern Iraq at the port of Um Qasr which has just been secured by Iraqi Security Forces.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has been summarily defeated. Membership of 91,000 Sons of Iraq clearly shows this defeat as does tens of Al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents being killed or captured daily across Iraq. The next primary concern of Iraqis is Special Groups sponsored by Iran. These Special Groups have been defeated in Southern Iraq most notably marked by Iraqi Security Forces securing the port of Um Qasr. The last remaining bastons are being cleared out of Basra and Sadr City as this article is being typed.

The rule of law is being established in Iraq. Market forces which a democracy brings are beginning to dominate Iraq. As the country transitions from all out war to low level insurgency to reconstruction and then finally to a vibrant export economy, many folks will change jobs. Former insurgents will become carpenters. Former rice farmers will move to cities for better jobs. Iraq's wealth is centered around oil. Thirty-five companies have just qualified to bid for oil and gas contracts in Iraq.

Soon, Iraq may very well exploit another of its natural resources, that being the birthplace of civilization. Many historical sites remain unexcavated in Iraq. Ten or twenty years in the future, an American visiting Iraq's Tower of Babel may very well be talking to a tour guide who was once a Sunni insurgent, who became a Son of Iraq, who became a mason working helping to rebuild Iraq who then moved on to rebuild the Tower of Babel and now works as a tour guide.

The fact is a democracy allows for these types of career changes. A democracy is what is currently growing in Iraq. A few years down the road the Iraqi democracy will become of force to be reckoned with in the region. The American military is fostering this young democracy and its new citizens in places like the "Village of Hope".

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Coalition Forces Continue To Go After AQI

From MNF-I.

Even while Iraqi Security Forces are continuing to battle insurgents in Basra and Sadr City, Coalition forces are still going after AQI elements in Iraq with increasing persistence.

Coalition forces captured a reported al-Qaeda in Iraq leader and detained three additional suspected terrorists during operations in Mosul Tuesday.

In a precision operation in Mosul, Coalition forces captured an alleged AQI leader. The suspect is believed to be in charge of an illegal terrorist court system in the area, and is also suspected of involvement in a local bombing cell.

In the Tigris River Valley, Coalition forces also struck at AQI targets.

Coalition forces detained 18 suspected terrorists Monday and Tuesday during operations targeting the al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network in the Tigris River Valley and northern part of the country.

Coalition forces analyzed intelligence from several sources to develop a series of operations targeting key links in the AQI network west of Samarra. Ground forces conducted eight missions there Monday and Tuesday and detained 12 suspected terrorists.

And further south in Baghdad, Coalition forces detained more AQI individuals.

Coalition forces killed one terrorist and detained 14 suspected terrorists while targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq’s senior leaders and criminal operations Sunday and Monday.

In eastern Baghdad Sunday, Coalition forces used information from an operation Feb. 7 to target a senior leader in the Baghdad AQI propaganda network. When the ground force entered the building, one man drew a weapon. Coalition forces responded to the hostile threat by engaging and killing the armed man. One suspected terrorist was detained, and Coalition forces gathered information that led them to a second target in the area where they detained an additional suspect.

And today, 13 more AQI were detained.

Coalition forces detained 13 suspected terrorists during operations Tuesday and Wednesday targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq networks in the Tigris River Valley and northwest Iraq.

Coalition forces captured two suspected terrorists Tuesday during an operation west of Samarra, including an alleged close associate of a regional AQI leader. Intelligence gathered Tuesday also led the ground force to another target Wednesday morning, where they detained two more suspected associates of the AQI leader.

All typical Americans will read about is a VBIED kills 36, wounds 67 in Baquba or car bomb wounds 11 in central Baghdad. If one wants the whole truth, go to the MNF-I page.

Upon going to the MNF-I page, one thing become very clear. While AQI can still engage in spectacular attacks, its last remaining elements are being killed, wounded, or detained at an alarming rate. In just a few days, well over 50 AQI individuals have been killed or detained according to press releases above and other releases on the MNF-I page not cited specifically here.

Coalition forces are providing security in Central Iraq and taking down Al Qaeda elements at an alarming rate. Kurdish forces are providing security in Northern Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces are providing security in Southern Iraq and have begun to clear the streets in Sadr City.

In sum, what we are witnessing now in Iraq is Iraqi forces are on the offensive, attacking insurgents, moving into terrain that until recently has been in the hands of insurgents or militias, and providing security for their citizens. They are attacking and taking down insurgent strongholds whether they be Shiite militia or Al Qaeda in Iraq safehavens.

This new found capacity in Iraqi Security Forces, namely to be moved from place to place to battle insurgents and militia marks a new phase in Iraq. The Government of Iraq is establishing the rule of law within the country and is starting to look outward at its neighbors saying in effect, "Don't support criminal elements in Iraq." The recent battle in Basra showed this clearly to the Iranians.

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Iraq’s Moment of Truth in Baghdad and Basra

From Mohammed Fadhil at Iraq the Model.

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki has been presented with a golden opportunity to build on political cohesion and bolster the rule of law by dismantling the Mahdi Army.


I think what encouraged Maliki to push the limits of the conflict to this unprecedented level was the first-of-a-kind success of the Political Council for National Security — an entity that includes the president, PM, and leaders of major parliamentary blocs — to reach consensus on a decision. This entity managed for the first time a week ago to overcome the impotence that had halted its mission since its inception. Evidence of the newfound potency of this entity is that Ayad Allawi, who had refused being part of it for a long time, is now sending delegates to negotiate terms for his membership.

Reconciliation is happening in Iraq. It is interesting that Sadr, or more specifically actions against Sadr, has become the impetus for reconciliation between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Mohammed explains,

Everyone has come to realize that allegiance to the country provides more security in the long run than sectarian entrenchment does, and in my opinion the awakening of the Iraqi west and the uprising against the perverted violent practices of co-religionists have provided an example for a similar awakening among the Shia — of course, with the main difference we outlined in an earlier post; that is, while in the west we had a tribal uprising against extremist religious powers, in the south the uprising is religious-on-religious, with the target highly identified with one particular group.

An interesting perspective indeed.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi government: "We will continue until we secure Sadr City"

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

The Iraqi government has committed to wresting Sadr City from the control of Shia militias, an Iraqi government spokesman and a US military spokesman said in a press briefing today in Baghdad.

"We will continue until we secure Sadr City. We will not come out, we will not give up until the people of Sadr City have a normal life," Ali al Dabbagh, the spokesman for the government of Iraq, told AFP. "(Security forces) will do what they have to do to secure the area. I can't tell you how many days or how many months but they will not come out until they have secured Sadr City."

We should have taken care of the Mahdi Army in 2004. However, it is good that it will be dealt with by Iraqi Security Forces.

For a full read, click here.

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Port City is Open for Business

From MNF-I.

UmQasr, a port city southeast of Basra, is filled with daily activities, as Iraqi workers load export and unload imports last week.

“The estimated flow of goods into Iraq is 60,000 tons with 15,000 passing through UmQsar,” said Todd Stratton, Task Force to Support Business and Stability Operations in Iraq.

“The single largest commodity is food such as wheat, rice, sugar and other food items,” Stratton said. “The port is a critical gateway to supply the Iraqi nation with food imports.”

Why is MNF-I telling the story of Um Qsar being opened for business? It could be the same reason General Petraeus reported to Congress the port of Um Qasr is now under the control of Iraqi Security Forces.

Meanwhile, anti-insurgent operations in Basra continue, Petraeus reported, noting Iraqi security forces now have control of the city of Um Qasr, the country’s main port. Um Qasr is a major conduit for the smuggling of weapons and contraband into Iraq, the general said.

The major reason for the story is a little talked about victory in Basra. The port, which used to be under control of Sadr's forces backed by Special Groups from Iran, is now under control of the Iraqi Government. This means two things. Smuggling is now most assuredly way down -- smuggling which directly benefited Sadr's Mahdi Army. In addition, the Iraqi Government is now getting imports directly instead of Sadr.

Make no doubt about it, the recent battle in Basra was a major tactical and operational success for PM Maliki and the Iraqi Government. It was not executed perfectly, but it was and still is being executed well enough.

Reports are confirming that approximately 1300 Soldiers and police refused to fight the Sadr militia and Special Groups in Basra and other southern cities. These 1300 traitors are now identified and fired. The remaining 28,700 Soldiers PM Maliki has pushed into the southern region are completely loyal to him and the Iraqi Government. It is these loyal forces which are now in control of the port of Um Qasr, ensuring the Iraqi Government has control of all the supplies coming into and going out of Iraq. More importantly, it assures the Qods forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army are no longer able to smuggle these supplies into the country for economic benefit for their forces, nor more importantly, smuggle oil out of the country. These elements have just lost a major source of revenue.

PM Maliki used military force to regain control of southern Iraq. In turn, his tactical and operational victory has allowed him to gain control of the economies of this region. Politically, he is introducing legislation which will outlaw militias and prevent members from running for Parliament who maintain militias. Finally, if one hasn't noticed, he is on many international and national programs touting the success in the south. He is expertly using all the instruments on Iraqi National Power to reduce the influence of Sadr and Iranian-sponsored Special Groups in Iraq.

I stated before in this blog. The Kurds haved secured the North. The Americans have secured the Central part of Iraq to include Baghdad, the center of gravity in Iraq. PM Maliki is securing the South.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is reduced down to at most 2000 remaining individuals who are hiding, but yet are still getting captured or killed daily. Sunnis, who have joined the Sons of Iraq, are now being screened for military/police service. The Sons of Iraq are, in addition, developing into a political party just in time for October Provincial Elections and National Elections in 2009. PM Maliki is no longer seen as a puppet of the Iranian government by Kurds and Sunnis. He is now seen as an secular Iraqi leader who will fight against Shiites for the betterment of Iraq. Sadr is politically isolated, he and his militia is in hiding in Iraq, and the head of the Sadr block in Iraq has just been assassinated. Iran, who attempted to exert political, economic, and military control in the South, now has to begin its carefully laid plans all over again after years of detailed planning. Finally, the Iraqi Security Forces have been independently tried and tested in the South and were victorious. In addition, 1300 traitors have been identified and expelled from the force to make it completely loyal to the government.

Not a bad month for the Government of Iraq. Not a bad month indeed.

The battle of Basra completely changed the political/diplomatic, informational, military, and economic landscape of Iraq. It solidified PM Maliki's power in Parliament. It will allow for reconciliation with Sunnis and Kurds. It completely isolated Sadr and highlighted Tehran/Qods' force efforts in Iraq. It has opened the way for free and fair elections in the south.

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Iran's Busted Iraq Bid - Basra "Rising" Was Tehran's Op

From Amir Taheri. Mr. Taheri always provides great insight into Iran. In this New York Post article, he discusses the Tehran connection in Basra.

A GAMBLE that proved too costly.

That's how analysts in Tehran describe events last month in Basra. Iran's state-run media have de facto confirmed that this was no spontaneous "uprising." Rather, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to seize control of Iraq's second-largest city using local Shiite militias as a Trojan horse.

Tehran's decision to make the gamble was based on three assumptions:

* Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't have the courage to defend Basra at the risk of burning his bridges with the Islamic Republic in Iran.

* The international force would be in no position to intervene in the Basra battle. The British, who controlled Basra until last December, had no desire to return, especially if this meant getting involved in fighting. The Americans, meanwhile, never had enough troops to finish off al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, let alone fight Iran and its local militias on a new front.

* The Shiite clerical leadership in Najaf would oppose intervention by the new Iraqi security forces in a battle that could lead to heavy Shiite casualties.

It appears now that Iran misjudged PM Maliki and Sistani. While they thought they had the inside track on both of these leaders, they obviously did not as PM Maliki had the courage to stand up to Iran and Sistani gave his blessing to the Maliki led operation. More important; however, is the outcome of each side. On the Iraqi side,

Soon, however, the tide turned. Maliki proved that he had the courage to lead the new Iraqi Security Force (ISF) into battle, even if that meant confronting Iran. The ISF showed that it had the capacity and the will to fight.

Only a year ago, the ISF had been unable to provide three brigades (some 9,000 men) to help the US-led "surge" restore security in Baghdad. This time, the ISF had no difficulty deploying 15 brigades (30,000 men) for the battle of Basra.

Led by Gen. Mohan al-Freiji, the Iraqi force sent to Basra was the largest that the ISF had put together since its creation five years ago. This was the first time that the ISF was in charge of a major operation from start to finish and was fighting a large, well-armed adversary without US advisers.

During the Basra battles, the ISF did call on British and US forces to provide some firepower, especially via air strikes against enemy positions. But, in another first, the ISF used its own aircraft to transport troops and materiel and relied on its own communication system.

Iraq has shown Iran it is able to defend itself. Iran cannot directly attack Iraq due to US presence in the area so they tried to insight an "internal" uprising. It failed to materialize and the "internal" uprising was smashed. On the Iranian side,

After more than a week of fighting, the Iraqis forced the Quds commanders to call for a cease-fire through Sadr. The Iraqi commander agreed - provided that the Quds force directly guaranteed it. To highlight Iran's role in the episode, he insisted that the Quds force dispatch a senior commander to finalize the accord.

The Iran-backed side lost more than 600 men, with more than 1,000 injured. The ISF lost 88 dead and 122 wounded.

Some analysts suggest this was the first war between new Iraq and the Islamic Republic. If so, the Iraqis won.

Tactically and operationally, the Iraqis won this first war. However, strategically, it was a draw.

But the battle also showed that the ISF still lacks the weapons systems, including attack aircraft and longer-range missiles, needed to transform tactical victories into strategic ones. The Iranian-sponsored Special Groups and their Mahdi Army allies simply disappeared from the scene, taking their weapons with them, waiting for another fight.

Now, all the pieces are starting to fall together better. Ahmadinejad visits Iraq a few weeks ago to test the waters in Iraq. He was able to test the waters with Maliki, but obviously came out with the wrong data. He was unable to see Sistani, as Sistani quitely refused to see him. Sadr, still adhering to a ceasefire, allowed the Qod forces to use his forces to attempt to take control of southern Iraq. This action failed miserably. Sadr is both militarily and politically weakened. PM Maliki is both militarily and politically strengthened. In addition, he is now seen by Kurds and Sunnis as a true Iraqi leader and not just an Iranian puppet. Iran has shown it hand in Iraq and now must restart from ground zero.

Basra was not the defeat that many western media outlets touted. It was, in fact, a major military and operational victory for Iraq. While strategically it is considered a draw, now Iran is in a much worse position to influence affairs inside southern Iraq specifically, and Iraq in general.

This battle has significantly changed the tide in Iraq and the balance of power in the Middle East.

For a full read, click here.

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Youth leave, imported crops invade villages

From Voices of Iraq.

This article writes about how life is changing in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It focuses on agriculture in and around the town of Arbil.

“Agriculture is no longer a core activity for the population because the youth, as is the case with most villages in Kurdistan region, left to the city in search of clean jobs,” Hussein explained to Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI).

The 40 year- old villager noted, “We are unable to meet our needs from cultivation and we started to rely on imported crops.”

Derbaz, 21, who left his village to Arbil, capital of Kurdistan region, said “our village Sablakh lacks basic services, a matter that makes life there impossible.”

“Working as a farmer is no longer enough to feed my family of eight,” the young man who is working now in Arbil explained.

What this article fails to write about is why things have changed. The why is not obvious unless one examines the current context.

Prior to 2003, Iraq was a agrarian society in many respects prevented from importing many food stuffs due to sanctions. Northern Iraq has now changed and is a bustling metropolis. As a metropolis, farmers were unable to keep up with the needs of people with now more wealth. Imports started coming in. Imports were in fact cheaper allowing less and less folks to work the fields and move to the cities for higher paying jobs, better schools, etc.

Nowhere in this article does it express people are suffering for lack of food. Instead, food is abundant, it just is not any longer locally grown. Later down in the article, the truth is finally written.

Hassan, 52, notes “we used to spend months in cultivation until we got the harvest, but now we only sit down in coffee houses and depend on our sons who earn higher salaries from their new jobs.”

“Even old men now depend on subsidies from the government and no one is willing to work as a farmer any more,” he ironically said.

A local governmental official attributed the tendency among the youth to leave their villages for the big cities to the lack of basic services, absence of good schools, and non-existence of amusement centers in the villages.

These villagers are not suffering. They are sitting down at coffee houses and depending on their son's higher salaries they get from the cities. The older generation is apparently getting subsidies from the government and no longer need to work. They no longer toil for months in fields.

Far from pain and suffering. What is happening in Kurdistan region of Iraq is progress from a free, democratic system.

Notice, the article says nothing about violence from the war in this region.

For a full read, click here.

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The Success of Iraq Policy

From Jim Hall at the American Thinker.

Contrary to the dominant media narrative, the Iraq war is working out as a global strategic success, albeit not to a comfortable time schedule or cost. A Walter Chronkite-type surrender won't be necessary, this time. America had the strength to endure, analyze, correct and advance the mission. America will be the global can-do superpower once again. Europe and the Middle East have seen this light.

An interesting take on the Iraqi War.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi government moves to sideline Sadrists, Mahdi Army

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Less than two week after many American newspapers were headlining that Maliki is weakened and Sadr won the battle of Basra, Mr. Roggio explains the current status of the Mahdi Army, the Sadr political party, and PM Maliki.

Less than two weeks after Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched Operation Knights' Assault to clear the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backer militias in Basrah, the Iraqi government is moving to ban Muqtada al Sadr's political movement from participating in the election if it fails to disband the militia. Facing near-unanimous opposition, Sadr said he would seek guidance from senior Shia clerics in Najaf and Qom and disband the Mahdi Army if told to do so, according to one aide. But another Sadr aide denied this.

Since Sadr's militia "won the battle of Basra", the Iraqi Government is seeking to pass an election law preventing movements with militias from participating in the election process. "Weaken" PM Maliki has near-unanimous support in the Parliament from Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite leaders for the proposed law. The "fragmented" Parliament is expected to easily pass this legislation into law within a couple of weeks. Passage in a couple of weeks would be a new record from conception to passage if executed as stated. All of these actions against Sadr does not sound like actions against a victor on the field of battle. PM Maliki leading these actions hardly appears politically weakened in a disjointed Parliament.

Hassan al Rubaie, a Sadrist member of parliament said,

Our political isolation was very clear and real during the meeting.... Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament, We must go and explain to [Sadr] in person that there's a problem."

Maybe, just maybe, the reporters in Baghdad got it all wrong about the winners and losers in Basra, only a couple hundred miles south of their secure hotel rooms.

Far from another quagmire (as portrayed), it appears the Iraqi Government and Army are stepping up to the plate and confronting threats to their young democracy. The number one threat since Americans have isolated and weakened Al Qaeda is the Mahdi Army. The Iraqi Government is doing these actions for the better of Iraq, not Iran who supports Sadr. While not as proficient as American forces, the Iraqi Army is building capacity daily and is able to reposition itself in Iraq to bring the required forces to bear to defeat internal unrest. While not unified, when important, the Iraqi Parliament is able to come together to put into place political solutions to aid military forces.

Maybe, just maybe, the politicians who said all is lost in Iraq and the surge of American forces would only worsen the problems in Iraq got it all wrong from their secure offices only a couple thousand miles from Iraq.

I wonder how politicians, invested in defeat in Iraq, will fare in upcoming national elections in November. I wonder how the only presidential candidate remaining who has steadfastly supported the war and surge effort will fare in his presidential bid come November. October elections in Iraq will be extremely interesting now that Sadr's movement is militarily and politically isolated. More interesting will be November elections in America.

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Lessons Learned from the Basra Fighting for the Iraq Hearings

From The Heritage Foundation.

The Maliki government's offensive in Basra sought to accomplish goals that the United States should support: weakening the Mahdi Army and other gangs supported by Iran. But the operation was poorly planned and executed and did not achieve the ambitious goals initially set out by Prime Minister Maliki.Although the Iraqi government did make some progress in curbing the militias in Basra, the campaign also demonstrated the continuing need for U.S. troops in Iraq.

James Phillips draws the following conclusions from the fighting in Basra

1. The Iraqi government's campaign to extend the rule of law to Basra was a step in the right direction.

2. Prime Minister Maliki has strengthened his nationalist credentials.

3. Iraq's security situation is fragile and the U.S. cannot afford to risk withdrawing troops too soon.

4. Iran exploited the Basra situation and will gain much more influence in Iraq if the next Administration rapidly withdraws U.S. troops.

For a full read, click here.

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The Press Botches Basra

From The Weekly Standard written by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bill Roggio.

Both of these gentlemen point out differences in reporting coming out of Basrah versus the facts of all the articles combined. While headlines and text hailed Sadr's strength and resilience, facts show something completely different. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross and Roggio explain it best in these paragraph.

To be sure, the Iraqi security forces' performance in Basra is best described as mixed. However, they did not run into a wall. The Iraqi military was able to clear one Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood in Basra and was in the process of clearing another when Sadr issued his ceasefire. The ceasefire came on March 30, after six days of fighting, and was seemingly unilateral in the sense that the Iraqi government made no apparent concessions in return. By that time, 571 Mahdi Army fighters had been killed, 881 wounded, 490 captured, and 30 had surrendered countrywide, according to numbers tabulated by The Long War Journal. Thus, an estimated 95 Mahdi Army fighters were killed per day during the six days of fighting. In contrast, al Qaeda in Iraq did not incur such intense casualties even during the height of the surge.

The Iraqi security forces were at their best in the smaller cities in Iraq's south. The Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah. The security forces drove the Mahdi Army off the streets in those cities within days. The casualties taken by the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basra, and the wider south surely played a role in Sadr's tactical decision to call a ceasefire. An American military officer serving in southern Iraq told us, "Whatever gains [the Mahdi Army] has made in the field [in Basrah], they were running short of ammunition, food, and water. In short, [the Mahdi Army] had no ability to sustain the effort." Time's sources in Basra paint a similar picture. "There has been a large-scale retreat of the Mahdi Army in the oil-rich Iraqi port city because of low morale and because ammunition is low due to the closure of the Iranian border," the magazine reported on March 30.

Both gentlemen go on to point out that Sadr unilaterally issued a ceasefire. PM Maliki accepted Sadr's ceasefire, but did not stop operations nor did he agree to Sadr's terms. In fact, reinforcements were sent to Basrah and raids are still being conducted to this day.

But the fact is that the Maliki government did not agree to the nine-point terms for a truce that Sadr issued, nor did it sue for peace or promise that operations would cease. Instead the Iraqi government called Sadr's order for his fighters to pull off the streets a "positive step," and insisted that operations would continue. "The armed groups who refuse al Sadr's announcement and the pardon we offered will be targets, especially those in possession of heavy weapons," Maliki said, referring to the ten-day amnesty period for militias to turn in heavy and medium weapons. "Security operations
in Basra will continue to stop all the terrorist and criminal activities along with the organized gangs targeting people."

Subsequent to the ceasefire, the Iraqi military announced it was moving reinforcements to Basra, and the next day pushed forces into the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr. Iraqi special operations forces and special police units have conducted several raids inside Basra since then, while an Iraqi brigade marched into the heart of a Mahdi-controlled Basra neighborhood on April 2. And two days after Sadr called for a ceasefire, the government maintained a curfew in Sadr City and other Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad. None of this would be happening had Maliki simply caved to Sadr.

In addition, the press reported an emergency session of Parliament was called to end Maliki's push into Basrah. However, again the facts show what actually happened.

Maliki's governing coalition did not revolt over this operation. When the Iraqi opposition held an emergency session of parliament to oppose the Basra operations, only 54 of the 275 lawmakers attended. AFP reported, "The two main parliamentary blocs--Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance--were not present for the session which was attended by lawmakers from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the small Shiite Fadhila Party, the secular Iraqi National List and the Sunni National Dialogue Council." The fact that the major political blocs in Iraq's parliament ignored the emergency session is politically significant, and no evidence suggests that Maliki's governing coalition has been jeopardized since then.

Finally, both of these gentlemen paraphrase what a military officer told them. For me, this provides the correct perspective.

As an American military officer serving in southern Iraq told us, "Claiming a 'victory' and then withdrawing from the battlefield is the tactic of someone that is losing."

Combine this with the Kagan article and a lot of questions remain. However, one thing is certain. PM Maliki security operation was far from a failure it was portrayed to be in the media. While not a resounding tactical success, one has to ask, did it accomplish its strategic goals.

PM Maliki was attempting to secure his nation's oil wealth. He did as Iraqi Army units now control the port cities of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr.

PM Maliki was attempting to break up and defeat criminal elements which continue to bring violence to his country. Killing 95 fighters a day for six days is significant. The killed, captured, wounded, and surrendered numbers come out to 329 per day or 1,972 Madhi forces total for six days. In addition, The Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah. The security forces drove the Mahdi Army off the streets in those cities within days, as noted. In addition, his forces now control the port cities of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr as previously noted. This is hardly a defeat for PM Maliki.

Finally, PM Maliki stated he wanted to defeat Sadr's militia as the operation continues. This action requires considerable more time and will not be realized in six days. Hence, operations are still ongoing.

Politically, this operation did not hurt him as only 54 of 275 members of Parliament showed up for an emergency session with nobody attending from major parties. Politically, he obviously no longer enjoys the support of Sadr, who's 30 seats guarenteed his leadership of the country, but there are at least well over 200 members of Parliament who at least tacitly supported his operations in southern Iraq.

Militarily, the battle is still ongoing with 9 of 10 southern cities are now controlled by Iraqi Security Forces where they were at best contested beforehand. Militarily, almost 2000 insurgents were taken off the streets in six days. Militarily, Maliki was able to successfully move Iraqi Army units from one part of the country to another and logistically support them.

Looking at the facts, I would consider the battle in Southern Iraq to be completely successful with many strategic objectives accomplished or in the process of being accomplished. The battle of Basrah is ongoing. His military is capable of clearing and securing the south, the center, and is currently clearing Mosul.

Not a bad position to be in when you are uncertain if the US military will begin a wholesale withdraw from Iraq 10 months from today. This very concern is why PM Maliki may have decided to go it alone in the southern part of the country and why he is also providing the majority of forces in Mosul. He has two insurgencies who are vying for power in Iraq. His forces are taking them on, mostly on their own. He might as well test his military now, because 10 months from now, he may very well be going it alone.

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The Basra Business -What we know and what we don't.

From The Weekly Standard. Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan discuss what we know and what we don't know about PM Maliki's security operation in Basrah.

MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.

What we know:

The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.

What we don't know:

How well did the ISF fight in Basra and, in general, what actually happened there? The absence of partnered Coalition Forces in the city makes it extremely difficult to understand the nature of the fighting and the Iraqi forces' performance--long experience in the limitations of stringers and "eyewitnesses" or hospital sources in places where we did know what had actually happened should leave us skeptical of all initial reports of combat coming out of Basra.

Facts coming out of Basrah are sketchy and incomplete at best. But the Kagan's point out we have always wanted Iraqi Security Forces to take over their own security. This independent operation says politically they are ready even if militarily they are not. They are politically willing to start operations against criminal elements whether Shia in Basrah region or Sunni in Mosul.

A few things I add to the Kagan's comments is many have been complaining that national leaders are stuck behind American fortifications in the Green Zone. The fact that PM Maliki went down to Basrah to direct the fighting shows that the PM is not afraid to wonder out of the Green Zone. This fact is made even more important by the fact that it was an Iraqi directed and led operation with little American or British assistance.

In addition, the battle in Iraq is no longer centered in Baghdad. Iraqi Security Forces are now strong enough to take the battle to cities outside of Baghdad as this operation in Basrah shows as does the IA centered operation in Mosul also shows.

While insurgents are still able to attack civilians in Baghdad, the major battles are now not in Baghdad. All insurgents are now pushed far away from Baghdad, the center of gravity in Iraq. As operations outside Baghdad continue to occur, the Iraqi Army is getting better able to move forces to decisive points well outside of Baghdad. This new capacity is significant in terms of the Iraqi Army being able to project its forces throughout the country.

The Surge of forces in Iraq has provided the conditions for the young democracy to flourish and to allow the Iraqi Security Forces to build capacity. We are at a new milestone in Iraq with Iraqi Security Forces capable of moving around the country to battle insurgents. In turn, Iraqi leaders are using these forces more often without assistance from American forces.

Future battles may not be completely victorious, as the Basrah operations shows. However, the fact that these battles are occuring and Iraqi Security Forces at least are holding their own is a dramatic shift from just a short year ago.

For a full read, click here.

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