Death squad suspect seized in Sadr City


U.S.-led strike forces seized suspected Shiite death squad bosses Tuesday in raids that tested the fragile bonds between the government and a powerful militia faction allowing the Baghdad security crackdown to move ahead.

The sweeps through the Sadr City slum were part of highly sensitive forays into areas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has ridiculed the 2-week-old campaign for failing to halt bombings by suspected Sunni insurgents against Shiite civilians.

Al-Sadr withdrew his powerful Mahdi Army militia from checkpoints and bases under intense government pressure to let the security push go forward. But the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also worries that al-Sadr could pull his support if he feels his militiamen are being squeezed in Baghdad.

The pre-dawn raids appeared to highlight a strategy of pinpoint strikes in Sadr City rather than the flood of soldiers sent into some Sunni districts.

Bombings have not slackened off, with at least 10 people killed in blasts around Baghdad on Tuesday. However, an apparent success of the clampdown can be measured in the morgues: a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the streets of the capital, victims of sectarian death squads.

The number of bodies found this month in Baghdad - most shot and showing signs of torture - has dropped by nearly 50 percent to 494 as of Monday, compared with 954 in January. The figure stood at 1,222 in December, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

"We have seen a decrease in the past three weeks - a pretty radical decrease," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. (Emphasis added.)


U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told Al-Arabiya television that forces "will increase our operations in the coming days," but noted that the security crackdown in the capital should continue until at least October.

Added Odierno: "We will keep at this until the people feel safe in their neighborhoods."

Chuck Hagel and Carl Levin take note. The violence is dropping dramatically rather than increasing as US forces move into position in the city. That is what I expected and the opposite of what they had predicted. There appears to be little organized resistance to the surge. There is an attempt to melt away, but the scope of the surge is sweeping up many in arrests. The last quote from Gen. Odierno tells you what the mission of the operation is. This is a very different mission than previous operations that have focused on chasing bad guys. We are now denying access by the bad guys to the people.

Americans still do not comprehend how the mission has changed that is why many of them are still reluctant to back the operation. With continued success and continued explantions we should be able to persuade the majority to support the operation.


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