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Iraq Report: The search continues, Diyala, Mosul bombing, Sistani

The search for the three captured American soldiers has entered its fourth day. Over 4,000 U.S. troops, along with Iraqi security forces are scouring the Triangle of Death regions southwest of Baghdad, as well as the desert expanses southeast of Fallujah. We have conducted more than 450 tactical interviews and detained 11 individuals" thought to be linked to the assault over the past 24 hours, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq. Four of those captured are said to be "high value suspects." Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed it has captured the three soldiers, but has yet to release a tape. Al Qaeda has told U.S. forces to call off its search for the soldiers.

Today, Coalition forces captured 10 Ansar al Sunna and al Qaeda in Iraq operatives during raids in Mosul, Fallujah and Taji. It is believed the Mosul raid resulted in the capture of "a senior leader in the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist group." Monday's raids resulted in the capture of 11 al Qaeda in Baghdad, Ramadi, Hit and Karma. The Iraqi Army said it killed 16 insurgents and captured another 109 nationwide during the past 24 hours.

In Diyala province, the situation is worsening for the civilians caught in the path of al Qaeda's attempt to create an Islamic State. A curfew has been imposed in Baqubah, the provincial capital and the scene of recent fighting. Civilians have been fleeing the province by the thousands. "In the past six days more than 900 families, about 5,000 individuals, have fled Diyala governorate. Some of them were forced out by militants and others were scared of the clashes," Faris Abdallah, the media officer for Diyala governorate office told Reuters.

Al Qaeda is imposing a Taliban-like state in the region, much like they attempted in Anbar province. "They banned smoking and the consumption of any kind of product that might have been imported. Also, in some areas girls are prohibited from going to school as it is considered unnecessary; men cannot wear Western clothes and the Internet has been banned," Abdallah said.

Last week we noted the formation of the Diyala Salvation Front, the grouping of local tribes which have organized to fight al Qaeda just as the Anbar Salvation Council has. Baqubah tribal leaders are now organizing. "Shaykh 'Awad Najm al-Rabi'i, the head of the new 'Baquba Salvation Council' announced that around 280 tribal leaders, academics, military leaders, from the full range of sects and ethnicities have formed the council to confront the deteriorating security situation in the province and confront the 'gangs' that operate under the organizational rubric of the 'Islamic State,'" notes IraqSlogger. The Baquba Salvation Council committed to ""declaring war against [al Qaeda in Iraq] and expelling them from the province and bringing security back to the citizens."

Al Qaeda has conducted another mass casualty attack in the north. After two suicide attacks in the Kurdish areas over the past week, al Qaeda struck today in Mosul. A suicide car bomber killed at least 25 civilians, 4 police and wounded another 125 in the northern city. Al Qaeda has stepped up its bombing campaign in the north, with Mosul, Kirkuk and Tal Afar seeing an increase in attacks as Iraqi and Coalition forces concentrate on securing Baghdad and the belt regions.

On the Iranian front, an interesting development is occurring behind the scenes. Iranians are increasingly looking to Ayatollah Ali al Sistani for religious guidance, and eschewing Iran's theocratic leadership. "Some Iranians are intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi'ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq, where -- Iraq's myriad problems aside -- imams can say whatever they want in political Friday sermons, newspapers and satellite channels regularly slam the government, and religious observance is respected and encouraged but not required," reported the Boston Globe. Sistani's quietist "school of thought that says Shi'ite leaders should stay out of government, and Sistani has stuck to it despite the great temptation to wade into the chaos of Iraqi politics." This follows the news that SCIRI has dropped the "revolution" from its name, and is abandoning Iran and seeking religious guidance from Ayatollah Sistani as apposed to Iranian Supreme Leader Khameini.

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