Iraq Report: Battle in Baghdad, Sadr's protest, Anbar
Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops battled insurgents in what is described as the largest fight inside the capital since the start of the Baghdad Security Plan. Omar, an Iraqi blogger in Baghdad who writes at Iraq the Model, stated the fighting began in the central districts of al-Fadh [of Fadhil] and Sheik Omar, and later spread to Bab al-Mua'dam and al-Kasra. Omar describes the fighting as heavy, and U.S. Apache attack helicopters, and F-18 and F-16 fighters were called in to provide close air support. "During the morning more US and Iraqi forces rushed into the scene and cordoned the area while two f-18 fighter jets and some Apache gunships patrolled above. The fighter jets withdrew after a while," notes Omar." "The fighting became more intense and at around 11 am several explosions were heard in the area but the cause remained unknown." The skirmishes occurred throughout the day, and appears to have ended around 5pm local time.
"Police said a total of 10 people had been killed and 13 wounded in the fighting," Reuters reported. "Gunmen hit two helicopters with ground fire but both returned to base, the U.S. military said." Multinational Forces Iraq stated the battle began after Iraqi Army and Coalition forces were conducting "a routine cordon and search operation in Rusafa" when they came under fire. Three insurgents were killed in teh fighting, along with 4 Iraqi soldiers.
Far south of Baghdad, a controversy rages over the size and import of yesterday's protests in Najaf by the followers of Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The media counts for the number of protesters range from tens of thousands to up to 600,000. As we noted in yesterday's report on the fighting in Diwaniyah, the U.S. military has estimated the numbers at between five to seven thousand, based on aerial photographs. Multinational Forces Iraq is sticking to these numbers.
Multinational Forces Iraq has a vested interest in monitoring the size of protests such as this. The Coalition and Iraqi government are not only concerned about following the activities of the Sadr's Mahdi Army, particularly in the strategic city of Najaf and while a major operation is underway in Diwaniyah, but they must also provide security for an event such as this. By closely monitoring the size of the crowds, the Iraqi and U.S. military can adjust the security posture.
But Sadr achieved the desired political effect regardless of the size of the protest. The media accounts have characterized the protest as a successful showing of Sadr's power, despite the small showing by Sadr supporters, or his failure to appear in public. Sadr has maintained the myth that his is currently in Iraq, however he fled to Iran on or before February 15, as the Baghdad Security Plan was announced. Sadr has not been seen in public in Iraq since then.
Meanwhile, the Coalition and Iraqi security forces are pressing operations nationwide. A two week operation in two villages near Tikrit netted over 150 insurgent suspects, along with several weapons caches. The Iraqi police have hit the streets in Diwaniyah as Iraqi Army and Coalition forces wind down operations in the city. The Army and police have refused Sadr's calls to break with the Coalition. On April 10, Coalition forces killed 1 al Qaeda and captured another 12 during operations in Haditha and Baghdad. On April 9, Coalition forces captured 14 al Qaeda during raids in Bayji, Tarmiyah and Karma. A combined U.S. and Iraqi Army operation netted 12 suspects near near Muqdadiyah.
In Anbar province, the Iraqi government and Multinational Forces Iraq are looking to exploit the recent success of the Anbar Salvation Council, and Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and General David Petreaus' visit to Ramadi. Yesterday, Iraq's Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, and National Security Advisor conducted a security conference with the commanders of the 2nd Brigade of the Division of Border Enforcement and 1st and 7th Iraqi Army Divisions and the Provincial Director of Police met in Ramadi to discuss the security posture in the region.
IraqSlogger has republished an unconfirmed report from Al Jazeera which claimed "an agreement was reached on the formation of an Iraqi Army brigade made up of 4,000 soldiers recruited from Anbar, who will provide security in the province." If the report is accurate, it is unclear if this will be an actual Army brigade, or if this is formal consolidation of the 8 battalions of the Emergency Response Units (ERUs), the tribal fighters raised by the Anbar Salvation Council. The ERUs are said to be the nucleus of the Anbar provincial police force.
The recent spate of chlorine attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq, eight of which have struck in Anbar province, have led the U.S. and Iraqi government to clamp down on supplies of the chemicals. "Customs authorities at Tribil crossing-point have held for several days 12 25-ton trucks laden with chlorine imported from Jordan to be used for water purification projects in Baghdad and other provinces," according to an unconfirmed report by Voices of Iraq. In Baghdad, commanders are closely monitoring and inspecting businesses that use chlorine to ensure the stocks are not stolen by al Qaeda for use in their chemical attacks.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted a successful suicide attack in the city of Muqdadiyah. A female suicide bomber hid a vest under her black abaya and waded into a crowd of over 200 police recruits. Sixteen have been reported killed and another 33 wounded. A car bomb also detonated near Baghdad University, which killed 3 and wounded 10.