Civil war in Iraq: US exit strategy?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:
Iraq Stares Into Face of Civil War
Bombing onslaught on Shiite enclave in Baghdad kills 161, stepping up Iraq¹s 
sectarian war

By Associated Press
Friday, November 24, 2006 - Updated: 03:15 AM EST

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Funeral processions began Friday for the more than 160 people 
who were killed by car bombs and mortars in Baghdad¹s largest Shiite district. 
Hundreds of men, women and children beat their chests, chanted and cried as they
walked beside vehicles carrying the caskets of their loved ones.

The rest of Baghdad remained under a 24-hour curfew aimed at stopping widespread
sectarian violence in the capital. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, 
himself a Shiite, ordered police to guard the processions carrying victims of 
Thursday¹s attacks by Sunni Muslim insurgents in Sadr City to Najaf, the holy 
Shiite city where they will be buried.

"God is great. There is no God but Allah. Mohammed is the messenger of Allah," 
about 300 mourners chanted as they beat their chests while walking through the 
Sadr City slum alongside slow moving the cars and minivans carrying 16 wooden 
caskets tied to the rooftops. Some of the men and women repeatedly touched the 
sides of the vehicles or the caskets in an effort to say a final farewell to 
their relatives or friends.

Once the processions reached the edge of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad, the 
cars and minivans left most of the mourners behind for the 160-kilometer 
(100-mile) drive south to Najaf, a treacherous journey that passes through many 
checkpoints and areas controlled by Sunni militants in Iraq¹s so-called 
"Triangle of Death."

Three mortar rounds exploded near the Abu Hanifa mosque, Sunni Islam¹s most 
important shrine in Baghdad, at 9:45 a.m. Friday, wounding one guard, said its 
sheik, Samir al-Obaidi.

But the rest of Baghdad remained mostly quiet Friday morning, police said. In 
addition to the curfew, Friday is a day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq when 
many people have the day off work. For several months, the government has been 
imposing a 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ban on vehicles on Fridays, forcing people to walk 
to their local mosques for services.

In Thursday¹s well-coordinated attack, Sunni insurgents blew up five car bombs 
and fired mortars in Sadr City, killing at least 161 people and wounding 257 in 
a dramatic attack that sent the U.S. ambassador racing to meet with Iraqi 
leaders in an effort to contain the growing sectarian war.

Shiite mortar teams quickly retaliated, firing 10 shells that badly damaged the 
Abu Hanifa mosque in the Azamiya neighborhood and killed one person.

Eight more rounds slammed down near the offices of the Association of Muslim 
Scholars, the top Sunni Muslim organization in Iraq, setting nearby houses on 
fire. Two other mortar barrages on Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad killed 
nine and wounded 21, police said late Thursday.

The bloodshed underlined the impotence of the Iraqi army and police to quell 
determined sectarian extremists at a time when the United States appears to be 
considering a move to accelerate the hand-over of security responsibilities. 
U.S. President George W. Bush plans to visit the region next week to discuss the
security situation with al-Maliki.

"We condemn such acts of senseless violence that are clearly aimed at 
undermining the Iraqi people¹s hopes for a peaceful and stable Iraq," White 
House spokesman Jeanie Mamo said in Washington.

On Thursday night, Iraq¹s government imposed the curfew in the capital and also 
closed its international airport to all commercial flights. The transport 
ministry then took the highly unusual step of closing the airport and docks in 
the southern city of Basra, the country¹s main outlet to the vital shipping 
lanes in the Gulf.

Leaders from Iraq¹s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities issued a televised 
appeal for calm after a hastily organized meeting with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay 
Khalilzad. Al-Maliki also went on state TV and blamed Sunni radicals and 
followers of Saddam Hussein for the attacks on Sadr City.

The coordinated car bombings _ three by suicide drivers and two of parked cars _
billowed black smoke up into clouds hanging low over blood-smeared streets 
jammed with twisted and charred cars and buses.

Hospital corridors and waiting rooms were awash in blood and mangled survivors 
of bombs that struck at 15-minute intervals in the sprawling Shiite slum, which 
is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of radical anti-American cleric 
Muqtada al-Sadr, a key al-Maliki backer.

The militia and associated death squads are believed responsible for the 
slayings of hundreds of Sunnis since suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants bombed
a revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra last February.

That attack set off a surge of retaliatory killings between Shiites and Sunnis 
that have raged all year.

Al-Sadr associates said the cleric feared that the Sadr City bombings would make
it impossible for him to hold back his heavily armed fighters from a furious 
round of revenge attacks.

In a TV statement read by an aide, al-Sadr urged unity among his followers to 
end the U.S. "occupation" that he said is causing Iraq¹s strife.

Al-Sadr said the attacks coincided with the seventh anniversary of the 
assassination of his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a revered Shiite religious 
leader. The anniversary reckoning was by the Islamic calendar.

"Had the late al-Sadr been among you he would have said preserve your unity," 
the statement said. "Don¹t carry out any act before you ask the Hawza (Shiite 
seminary in Najaf). Be the ones who are unjustly treated and not the ones who 
treat others unjustly."

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shiite religious figure in Iraq,
condemned the bombings and issued condolences to family members of those who 
were killed. He called for self-control among his followers.

    Iraq is suffering through a period of unparalleled violence.

The U.N. said Wednesday that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the 
most in any month since the war began 44 months ago, and a figure certain to be 
eclipsed in November. The U.N. said citizens were fleeing the country at a pace 
of 100,000 each month, and that at least 1.6 million Iraqis have left since the 
war began in March 2003.

The International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-associated group, said 
Tuesday the number of Iraqis displaced by violence since the Samarra bombing has
now increased to almost 250,000 individuals in the 15 central and southern 
governorates, with more than 1,000 people on average being displaced a day in 
September, October and November.

The Sadr City slaughter occurred just moments after U.S. helicopters and Iraqi 
armor had to intervene to stop an attack by 30 masked Sunni gunmen who tried to 
storm the Shiite-dominated Health Ministry, about 1.6 kilometers (a mile) west 
of the Shiite slum. Seven ministry guards were wounded.

Residents also reported heavy mortar fire and gunbattles in Hurriyah, a 
now-largely Shiite neighborhood in northwest Baghdad. There were pitched battles
between gunmen and the army on Haifa Street, a dangerous thoroughfare running 
north from the Green Zone, site of the American and British embassies as well as
the Iraqi government and parliament.

Heavy fighting was reported around the Jadriyah Bridge near Baghdad University 
and Associated Press personnel saw 12 pickup trucks loaded with men armed with 
rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns driving through the 
center of the city before the curfew was imposed.

Counting those killed in Sadr City, at least 233 people died or were found dead 
across Iraq on Thursday.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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