International Zone under Curfew as Attacks Continue

March 27th, 2008 - by admin

CNN & BBC World News – 2008-03-27 22:09:19

BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 27, 2008) — Iraq’s government imposed a weekend curfew in Baghdad on Thursday amid clashes between government troops and Shiite militia fighters, and US Embassy staff were told to remain indoors after days of rocket attacks left two US government employees dead. The curfew, which took effect at 11 p.m. Thursday (4 p.m. ET), bans pedestrian, motorcycle and vehicle traffic through 5 p.m. Sunday, said Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman.

Sixteen rockets were fired Wednesday and 12 on Tuesday. US Embassy workers in Iraq were told to remain in secure buildings and wear protective clothing as rockets continued to rain down on Baghdad’s International Zone. Also called the Green Zone, the International Zone is a heavily fortified central Baghdad district housing the US Embassy and Iraqi government offices. A senior US official says the insurgents may have had recent training allowing them to conduct more precise targeting of the rockets, believed to be made in Iran.

Meanwhile, the name of the US government official killed in the attacks Thursday has not been released, an Embassy spokesman said. Another US employee, Paul Converse, died Wednesday from wounds he sustained Sunday, officials said. And a US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad on Thursday, the US military reported.

Iraq’s parliament called a special session for Friday to address the crisis caused by three days of fighting between government troops and Shiite fighters. Meanwhile, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an end to attacks on his followers.

Fighting between Iraqi government troops and what officials call rogue or outlaw members of Shiite militias has spread through southern Iraq’s Shiite heartland to Baghdad since the launch of a government crackdown in Basra on Tuesday.

Three days of fighting have left more than 100 Iraqis dead. Casualty figures from Basra weren’t available Thursday, but the number of deaths is expected to rise from the 40 to 50 reported Wednesday. The fighting threatens to unravel a seven-month cease-fire by al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army.
• VIEW: CNN video of violence in Basra and Baghdad

Al-Sadr issued a statement Thursday urging “all groups to adopt a political situation and peaceful protest and to stop shedding the Iraqi blood,” according to a senior member of his movement. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has been overseeing the operation in southern Iraq, has ordered militants to surrender their weapons by Saturday.

In Washington, US State Department official Richard Schmierer said the rocket attacks appear to be coming from fighters affiliated with al-Sadr who were “trying to make a statement” about the government offensive in Basra. Schmierer, the State Department’s director of Iraq affairs, discounted the prospect that the cease-fire was collapsing. He blamed the violence on “marginal extremist elements” who have associated themselves with the Sadrist movement.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry said mortar rounds killed one person and wounded four in the city’s central Karrada district on Thursday evening, and the ministry’s own compound was hit by one shell, wounding seven police officers. Also Thursday in Baghdad, dozens of gunmen kidnapped the spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, Tahseen Sheikhly. Three of his guards were killed and his house burned in the attack, which an Interior Ministry official said was carried out by “outlaws,” a reference to al-Sadr’s militia.

A car bomb killed three people and wounded five others near a police patrol in central Baghdad on Thursday, an Interior Ministry official said. There are no apparent links to the violence in the Shiite regions. People in Basra report smoke rising and gunfire and explosions ringing out across the city. Iraqi security forces, backed by US and British troops, have been taking on fighters using grenades, mortar rounds and machine guns.

A Basra provincial official said on condition of anonymity that weapons such as machine guns and grenades were stolen from a military post in the Muqal area. Al-Maliki briefed city and provincial officials Wednesday about the offensive and vowed to finish the job.
Provincial officials expressed reservations about the operation, saying Basra will fall into the hands of “outlaws” if al-Maliki fails to restore order.

Basra has been relatively quiet during the war, but the southern city has seethed with intra-Shiite tensions as Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Fadhila party have jockeyed for power. Much of the fighting in the Shiite heartland involves followers of al-Sadr and security forces aligned with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq’s militia, the Badr Brigade.

The council dominates the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, but the Sadrist movement left the government last year after al-Maliki refused to demand a timeline for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Both groups have strong contingents in the Iraqi parliament. A provincial council official also said insurgents sabotaged an oil pipeline Thursday in Zubeir, a town near Basra. The attack sparked a large fire on the pipeline, which transfers crude oil to tanks in the city.

Meanwhile, the FBI identified the remains of two US contractors who had been missing in Iraq for more than a year, a bureau spokesman said Thursday. Minnesotan Paul Johnson-Reuben, 41, and Californian Joshua Munns, 25, were among four men kidnapped in November 2006 during an ambush in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan. All four worked for the Crescent Security Group, a Kuwaiti-based firm that escorts convoys.

The other two men — Jonathon Cote, 25, and Bert Nussbaumer, 26 — are still listed as missing. The FBI has the remains of one more body, which the bureau is trying to identify.

CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jonathan Wald contributed to this report.
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Barrage Hits Baghdad Green Zone
BBC World News

(March 23, 2008) — A series of rockets or mortars have been fired into the heavily-fortified Green Zone in the centre of Baghdad.

Smoke rose from buildings after a sustained barrage of fire early on Sunday morning. The Green Zone is home to the Iraqi government headquarters, the US and British embassies, and thousands of American troops. It was not immediately clear where the rockets or mortars landed, or whether there were casualties.

As Sunday’s attack hit, the US public address system warned people “to duck and cover” and to stay away from windows. Previous rocket attacks on the Green Zone have been blamed on rogue elements of Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.

Moqtadr Sadr renewed a ceasefire for his militia last month.

Blasts Hit Baghdad’s Green Zone
Al Jazeera

(March 23, 2008) — Three of the four US deaths announced on Saturday were caused by a roadside bomb in Baghdad [AP]
Smoke has been seen rising from the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone after it was targeted by a series of rockets or mortars.

At least 10 blasts were heard in the area in central Baghdad, starting shortly before 6am on Sunday, and helicopters were immediately seen flying overhead.

The US public address system in the Green Zone warned people to “duck and cover” and to stay away from windows. US officials did not respond to a request for comment about the incident.

The 10sq km area on the west bank of the Tigris river houses the US and British embassies, the Iraqi government headquarters and thousands of American troops on the west bank of the Tigris River.

Fighters Blamed
Last month, the US military blamed what it calls Iranian-backed armed Shia groups for a series of deadly rocket attacks in Baghdad. Those included one that struck Camp Victory, the main US military headquarters, and an Iraqi housing complex on the capital’s southwestern outskirts on February 18, killing at least five people and wounding 16 more, including two US soldiers.

The US military said the assailants were among factions that had broken with Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia leader and head of the Mahdi Army militia, and refused to follow his ceasefire order. Iran denies allegations that it is stoking the violence.

US Troop Deaths
The Green Zone attack comes a day after the US military announced the deaths of four soldiers in Iraq, including three in a single roadside bombing in Baghdad.A US soldier also died from injuries sustained during a gun battle on Friday.

Separately, in Baghdad’s southern al-Amel neighbourhood, five Iraqis were injured during clashes between the Mahdi Army on the one hand and US and Iraqi forces on the other.

Iraqi police also reported the deaths of six Iraqis after a US Apache helicopter struck two checkpoints near the central city of Samarra. Two Iraqis were wounded during the attacks.

Abu Faruq, leader of an Awakening Council unit allied with US forces against al-Qaeda in Iraq, said the six Iraqis were members of his group who had been manning the checkpoints when they came under attack.

US Air Strike Kills ‘Iraq Allies’
BBC World News

(March 22, 2008) — Six people have been killed in a US air strike near the Iraqi town of Samarra, with some reports suggesting they were US-allied anti-al-Qaeda Sunni fighters.

The US denied claims by a police source and a militia member that those killed at the checkpoint were members of an Awakening Council.

The US-funded groups are credited with helping to curb the level of violence. It came as four more US soldiers were killed in Iraq, bringing the death toll since the 2003 invasion close to 4,000.

Three soldiers died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle near Baghdad on Saturday, the US military said. Another US soldier died after a rocket or mortar attack on Friday.

Reflective Vests
A US helicopter gunship killed the six Iraqis near Samarra in an attack which an army spokesman said had been launched after people “were spotted conducting suspicious terrorist activity”.

The area, 125km (80 miles) north of Baghdad, has seen a large number of roadside bombings.

The US said it was now investigating the attack, in which two other people were injured. But Abu Faruq, a local leader of an Awakening Council in Samarra, said those killed were members of his group, which was manning a checkpoint. He told the AFP news agency that they had all been wearing the reflective vests worn by members of the Councils.

A BBC correspondent in Iraq says some dissidents are believed to be continuing their support for al-Qaeda while pretending allegiance to the Awakening Councils.

Independent website — which keeps a count of US deaths in Iraq – says Saturday’s American fatalities would bring the death toll to 3,996. Iraq this week marked the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion.

US President George W Bush said the invasion had been “the right decision” and had made the world better. He said the US military’s co-operation with Sunni Arab militias was yielding the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama Bin Laden, and that last year’s US troop surge had opened the door to a major strategic victory.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the “liberation of Iraq” by US-led forces had been the start of a new era, but he also warned that today’s Iraq was still gravely threatened.

The campaign group, Iraq Body Count, says the civilian death toll since March 2003 is between 82,000 and 89,000, although it warns many deaths may have gone unreported.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.