Shiite militias quiet in Baghdad

U.S. general implies some credit owed to cleric al-Sadr

March 16, 2007|By Tina Susman | Tina Susman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The general commanding American troops in Baghdad said yesterday that the time of Shiite militias in the city "is over" and gave tacit credit to an anti-U.S. cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, for American forces' ability to operate in once-hostile Shiite areas.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., who commands about 43,000 troops in Baghdad and three provinces to the south, said U.S. and Iraqi troops enforcing a security crackdown across the city had not anticipated being able to move into Sadr City, the cleric's stronghold, until later.

Instead, they entered Sadr City with virtually no resistance March 4, three weeks after the crackdown began, and established a permanent post there.

"I think al-Sadr has been very clear in his guidance, that the time is now right for his followers to work with Iraqi security forces," Fil said of the Shiite leader, whose Mahdi Army militia had fought bitter battles with American troops.

Fil acknowledged that he did not know al-Sadr's motivation. Many analysts have suggested that al-Sadr is waiting for U.S. forces to hand security over to Iraqi troops and leave, and that he then plans to put his militiamen back on the streets.

But Fil's comments were a rare display of U.S. gratitude toward al-Sadr for his tacit cooperation with the security plan, and they suggested the military is looking for ways to encourage the cleric to remain restrained in the face of continued Sunni attacks on Shiite targets.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded in a mostly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said, according to the Associated Press.

Two soldiers were wounded in the attack, which began when a bomb went off as a U.S. unit was returning from a search operation in the mostly Shiite area, the military said. Moments later, a second bomb exploded, killing and wounding the soldiers.

A demolition team that searched the site after the attack found an explosively formed projectile, a type of high-tech bomb the U.S. military believes comes from Iran. The device was detonated by the team.

Earlier, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday in fighting in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, while a Marine died the same day in a noncombat- related incident in Anbar that is under investigation.

The top official in the main Shiite district of Sadr City was seriously wounded yesterday when gunmen ambushed his convoy in eastern Baghdad, killing two of his bodyguards, according to police and a local official. Rahim al-Darraji had been involved in negotiations with U.S. and Iraqi government officials seeking to persuade the Shiite militias to tamp down the violence against Sunnis.

At least four Iraqis died yesterday in Baghdad in suicide bombing attacks targeting Shiite areas and bearing the hallmark of Sunni insurgents. They included a young man in Sadr City, who was blown up as he tried to carry a box containing a bomb out of a crowded marketplace.

Witnesses said it exploded before Ahmed Draiwel, 18, was able to hurl it into a distant trash pile. His brother, who was trying to help him, lost his arm, witnesses said.

Just outside Sadr City, gunmen opened fire at the motorcade of Sheik Raheem Darraji, the local leader who led negotiations with U.S. military officials that cleared the way for the troops to enter the neighborhood. Two of his guards were killed, but Darraji survived.

A suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi military checkpoint near a downtown Baghdad square, killing at least two people. A second suicide bomber elsewhere in the city killed an Iraqi soldier.

South of Baghdad, in Iskandariyah, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus and killed at least four people.

Also yesterday, a court set the stage for the hanging of a former vice president to Saddam Hussein by rejecting an appeal of his death sentence for the slayings of 148 Shiites in the 1980s.

Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted in November, alongside Hussein and three others, for the crimes in Dujail, a farming town whose men and boys were targeted by Hussein after an assassination attempt against the president there in 1982.

Ramadan was sentenced to life in prison in November. He appealed his conviction, but it was upheld in December along with a recommendation that his sentence be changed to death. That decision was also appealed, to no avail.

The state has 30 days in which to execute Ramadan, who would become the fourth person in Hussein's inner circle to die for the Dujail crimes. Hussein was hanged Dec. 30.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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