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Daily Iraq Report for March 23, 2007

Friday was another relatively quiet day in Iraq. The only major attack in Baghdad was serious, however. Not in the size of the attack, but in the target.

Salam al-Zubaie, one of two Deputy Prime Ministers, was wounded after a suicide bomb was detonated in the courtyard of the mosque he was attending. Eight Iraqis have been reported killed including 5 of his bodyguards and a senior adviser. Zubaie is a Sunni politician. The bombing occurred "after a statement purportedly by al-Qaida in Iraq singled out the Sunni deputy prime minister as a stooge 'to the crusader occupiers,'" notes the Associate Press. Another car bomb was detonated in a Sadr City used car lot, killing 5 and wounding 20.

On the political front, the reconciliation process is being pushed hard by the Iraqi government. Ahmed Shibani, the former Sadr aide released from U.S. custody, met with Prime Minister Maliki just hours after his release. It is believed he can play a vital role in cleaving off a large section of the Mahdi Army from Sadr and bring them into the political process. The Maliki government is also pushing forward with negotiations with Sunni insurgent groups. The government is in talks with 6 Sunni insurgent groups, but refuses to negotiate with al Qaeda in Iraq. The talks are stalled over a time line for U.S. withdrawal. Negotiations with Sunni insurgent groups collapsed last year after the sectarian violence exploded in the wake of the destruction of the Al Askaria mosque in Samarra.

Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to hunt al Qaeda and work to disrupt the network of car bomb factories and weapons caches in and around Baghdad. Seven al Qaeda operatives were arrested in raids in Taji, Baghdad and Mosul, including one with "alleged ties to a vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices cell." Iraqi National Police raided a mosque in the Rashid neighborhood in southern Baghdad and found a weapons cache, while another raid uncovered a cache in Zubaida.

The news from Diyala has essentially dried up. Omar Fahdila, an Iraqi who blogs at Iraq the Model, states al Qaeda has worn out its welcome in Anbar and Diyala is the next province in al Qaeda's crosshairs. "[Al Qaeda'] primary alternative is Diyala where demographics are already not as favorable for al-Qaeda as Anbar was," notes Omar. "There are signs that the tribes in Diyala too are changing their attitude and there are signs that they are slowly following the steps of their peers in Anbar." Multinational Forces Iraq has posted a video of March 14th fighting in Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala.

Iran has conducted a provocative move by capturing 15 British sailors from the HMS Cornwall, a frigate which is patrolling the Shatt Al Arab waterway in southern Iraq. "The specific coordinates of the incident are in dispute, as the Royal Navy says the Cornwall was inspecting an Iranian merchant ship in Iraqi territorial waters," notes IraqSlogger. Iran kidnapped British sailors patrolling the Shatt Al Arab waterway in June of 2004, and paraded the sailors on television before releasing them.

The latest incident highlights the heightened tensions between Iran and the West as the UN Security Council debates sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. The French recently deployed the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Persian Gulf, which is operating in conjunction with the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier.

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