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Daily Iraq Report for March 5, 2007

Yesterday's report that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of al-Qaeda's front group the Islamic State of Iraq, was captured in Salahadin province has turned out to be incorrect. The Ministry of the Interior is now claiming the Abdullah Latif al-Jaburi - aka Abu Abdullah - the second in command of the Islamic State in Iraq - has been captured, and not al-Baghdadi. Again, this information has not been confirmed by the U.S. military, and Iraqi sources have proved unreliable on news such as this in the past. There is little information on Abu Abdullah, however an American military intelligence source informed us he is a political and not a military leader.

In Baghdad, al-Qaeda scored its first major mass casualty attack since the beginning of last week. A car bomb was detonated in Baghdad's bookseller's market, killing 20 and wounding at least 42. Suicide and car bombs will remain the greatest threat to security in Baghdad, as long as the Mahdi Army remains sidelined.

Iraqi and Coalition forces netted over 30 al-Qaeda and insurgent operatives over the past 24 hours. Thirty-six terrorists were captured during raids in Tikrit, Bayji. Fallujah, Arab Jabour and near the Syrian border. The raid near the border (likely in the Al Qaim region) netted "two suspected senior-level foreign fighter facilitators along with 20 other suspected terrorists." On March 3, Iraqi forces captured "the suspected leader of an insurgent cell" who "is allegedly responsible for trafficking weapons and improvised explosive devices." in Karabilah near the Syrian border.

Iraqi and U.S. forces continue to pressure Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Iraqi Security Forces targeted "targeting rogue Jaysh Al Mahdi elements" in Karbala, and captured 1 "militiaman." Karbala is one of Sadr's bases of support. Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to clear Sadr City. Omar at Iraq The Model reports the Mahdi Army is spreading rumors rather than fight.

The Mehdi army is not responding to the raids with fire, but they are trying to undermine the security plan by spreading rumors about alleged crimes committed by US soldiers, specifically against the Shia. The latest of these rumors was a ridiculous one I heard yesterday from a taxi driver from Sadr city. His story, quite similar to one told by a Sadr city council member, is that US soldiers are raiding Shia homes, arresting innocent civilians, and then dumping them at night near strongholds of Sunni insurgents, blindfolded and handcuffed so that the insurgents would find them defenseless and slaughter them!

Newsweek reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has been reported to have withdrawn from providing political advice, warned Sadr he should leave the country or face the consequences of staying.

Sadr had an 11 p.m. meeting with Sistani about a month ago, according to an aide to the grand ayatollah, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with practice in the cleric's office. "He asked the sayyid what he should do about the attacks against him, and [Sistani] told him, 'You have two options: bear the consequences, on you and Shias in general, or withdraw into a corner'."

With Sadr in self exile in Iran and the Mahdi Army sidelined for the time being, the Iraqi government is tackling issues of corruption and militia and insurgent infiltration, two problems that plague the government. "There is coordination between us and the (U.S.-led) Multinational Forces (that) started at the beginning of this year ... to determine who should be arrested and the reasons behind arresting them," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in an interview with The Associated Press. Over 10,000 employees from the Ministry of the Interior "who were found to have tortured prisoners, accepted bribes or had ties to militias" have been dismissed, USA Today reports. The Interior ministry is also investigating how weapons captured by police are turning up in the hands of insurgents. A joint Iraqi special forces and British raid on an intelligence agency in Basra resulted in the discovery of 30 prisoners, some of whom appear to have been tortured.

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