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Daily Iraq Report for March 30, 2007

Yesterday's suicide campaigns in Baghdad and Khalis led to the most deadly day since the beginning of the Baghdad Security operation. The Baghdad attack, where two suicide bombers detonated their vests in a largely Shia market, has resulted in 83 murdered, with another 138 wounded. The Khalis attacks led to another 70 killed, and scores more wounded.

Combined with Wednesday's suicide bombings in Tal Afar, which provoked off duty police and militia to conduct reprisal attacks on Sunnis, al Qaeda has been very successful in stoking the sectarian fires with its mass casualty suicide strikes. Stopping these mass casualty attacks will be the Coalition's greatest challenge over the next several months.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq elements once again displayed their total disregard for human life, carrying out barbaric actions against innocent Iraqi citizens in an effort to reignite sectarian violence and to undermine recent Iraqi and Coalition successes in improving security in Baghdad," General David Petraeus said today in a statement on the recent bombings.
"These horrific attacks demonstrated al-Qaeda™s complete rejection of respect for life itself and the Coalition joins Iraqi leaders in condemning these latest acts of cold-blooded murder."

A major success which has kept the sectarian tensions at bay (deaths in Baghdad are at the lowest rate since March of 2005) has been the sidelining of Muqtada al Sadr and the fracturing of his Mahdi Army. We've noted this process has been ongoing for almost a year, and the Sadr's flight to Iran has destroyed his command and control over the militia. "Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, [Pentagon Officials] said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf," the Washington Post notes today. "It's clear that he does not control all the organization. There are splinter groups that don't answer and won't answer to him, particularly since he is in Tehran now," the senior Pentagon told the Washington Post.

Stars & Stripes reports elements of the Mahdi Army are filtering back into Sadr City in Baghdad. The Mahdi Army fighters have not openly confront U.S. forces inside Sadr's stronghold however. While an increase in EFP [Explosively Formed Projectiles] attacks are increasing in some neighborhood, overall the number of EFP attacks are down. U.S. forces just captured another member of an EFP cell in Sadr City.

While most of the reporting on the Mahdi Army has viewed the splintering of the Mahdi Army as a negative, the fact is the most extreme elements were never going to accept a political solution, as they answer to their Iranian masters. The more moderate elements are now free from Sadr and Iran's influence. The Mahdi split has weakened Sadr politically, and has exposed his operation as an Iranian foil. Sadr has portrayed himself as an Iraqi patriot, but the longer he stays in Iran while Iranian Qods Force cannibalizes his militia, the great his popularity will drop.

Sadr, for his part, has issued a statement through his representative in Najaf calling for Iraqis to protest on April 9, the date of the liberation of Iraq from Saddam's rule. "I call on everyone to demonstrate on April 9 in Najaf on the anniversary of the US occupation," said Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Muhamadawi during Friday prayers in Kufa. Sadr has put himself in the position of essentially defending Saddam Hussein.

Sadr continues to claim he is in Iraq, although he has not been spotted in the country since his flight to Iran on February 14, the day the official announcement of the Baghdad Security Operation was made. Another Sadr aide claimed Sadr was targeted for assassination in Kufa by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Thee is no evidence of this, and the U.S. maintains Sadr is still in Iran.

Much like the split in the Mahdi Army, the fault lines within the Sunni insurgency are now becoming apparent. The 1920s Revolution Brigades, which is one of the four most influential Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq, has now split into two factions: al-Jihad al-Islami (Islamic Jihad) Corps and the al-Fatih al-Islami (Islamic Conquest or Hamas). The Hamas branch has sided with al Qaeda in Iraq, while the Islamic Jihad faction opposes joining al Qaeda. Large elements of the 1920s Revolution Brigades in Anbar province have already thrown in their lot with the Anbar Salvation Council, which is actively hunting al Qaeda.

The splitting of the Sunni insurgency and the advancement of the reconciliation process is key to isolating al Qaeda and providing intelligence on the network. Coalition forces detained 11 al Qaeda suspects, including 6 near the Syrian border and five in Karma. Karma has been a hotbed of al Qaeda activity of late.

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