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 Shiites protest Baghdad crackdown

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The Sameer
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Registration date : 2007-03-07

PostSubject: Shiites protest Baghdad crackdown   Sat Mar 17, 2007 7:09 am

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/070316/1/47bue.html

Shiite protesters Friday demanded the removal of a US military base from Sadr City in east Baghdad as US commanders reported a surge of attacks on troops in a province near the capital.

More than a thousand unarmed but angry Shiites spilled out of mosques after Friday prayers to demand the base be removed from their Sadr City bastion, in the first sign of Shiite opposition to a new security plan.

The protests came a day after one of Sadr City's two mayors who negotiated with the Americans and welcomed the creation of the fortified base was shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen. A policeman travelling with him was killed.

"No, no to America. No, no to Israel. No, no to Satan," the protesters chanted, their voices reverberating across the vast slum district in east Baghdad, a stronghold of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

US and Iraqi forces have been setting up joint security stations across Baghdad as part of the new plan to rein in the violence in Baghdad, including in Sadr city where US troops in 2004 fought bitter street battles with Sadr's black clad militias.

Since the crackdown began on February 14, however, the militia fighters have melted away offering no resistance.

But since the attack on the mayor, tension has begun to rise and a tract distributed among the crowds by Sadr's office denounced what it described as "bases for the occupier on the lands of Sadr City."

Sadr himself was not present -- the US military believes he has gone to ground in Iraq's Shiite neighbour Iran -- but supporters carried his portrait and read out a statement he had apparently sent to them.

"The occupiers wanted to distort the reputation of the city and issued propaganda saying there are talks and cooperation between you and them. I am confident that you regard them as your enemy," he said.

"Don't surrender to them. You are their betters," he added.

More then 90,000 Iraqi and US troops have been deployed around Baghdad as part of Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law), an ambitious plan to regain control of the city and quell sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

Since it was formally launched there has been little of the anticipated resistance and the city's murder rate is down sharply, although Sunni insurgents have continued to detonate car bombs almost daily.

But as Baghdad witnesses a lull in violence, its neighbouring province Diyala has begun to experience a surge of attacks on security forces.

Colonel David W. Sutherland from 3rd Brigade Combat team, 1st Cavalry Division in Diyala, said indirect fire attacks -- mortars and rockets -- against troops rose to 98 in February 2007 from 28 in July, direct fire attacks rose to 153 from 90, while at the same time sectarian attacks fell significantly.

"In July, 124 murders were reported and in February, 16 murders were reported. Sectarian violence has fallen by 70 percent," he said, stressing the reduction of sectarian attacks in the confessionally divided province.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad by video conference from the provincial capital of Baquba, Sutherland said the attacks are being carried out by Al-Qaeda, rogue militias and Sunni insurgent groups.

"Terrorists are trying to disrupt operations of coalition forces and taking the fight off innocent civilians to security forces," he said.

In the face of the rising number of attacks, the US military recently boosted its troop strength in Diyala by despatching a battalion from the Stryker Brigade -- infantry equipped with 17-tonne armoured cars.

Meanwhile, five people were reported killed in Iraq on Friday, including two policemen who died in a roadside bomb attack against their patrol in Iraq's oil city of Kirkuk.

A civilian was also killed when insurgents fired mortars at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

The US military also announced deaths of two more soldiers taking its losses since the March 2003 invasion to 3,211.
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