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Daily Iraq Report for March 7, 2006

As we have noted several times in the past, as the Baghdad Security Plan begins to show progress inside the city, the likelihood is the attacks in the provinces will increase. Over the past 24 hours, two major attacks occurred in Hillah (Babil province) and Mosul (Niwena province).
In Hillah, two suicide bombers attacks pilgrims flocking to Karbala to mark the end of a religious period.Over 115 were killed and 200 wounded. Today, another 5 Shia pilgrims were killed and 14 wounded just south of Baghdad.

This morning, I attended a press conference with Major General Bill Caldwell, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq. He noted that we can "expect increase SVBIED and SIED attacks as security operations progress." Al Qaeda "will do everything they can to instigate and serve as a catalyst" for further violence between Shia and Sunnis. "Al Qaeda is trying to restart the cycle of violence." Major General Caldwell also noted the Iraqi security forces had requested to maintain security for the pilgrimage.

In Mosul, al Qaeda massed over 300 troops and staged a daring prison break at dusk. The Kurdish guards were overwhelmed, and called U.S. forces in Mosul for support. The prison housed several hundred high value targets, and al Qaeda was able to free 140 of them. The attack was said to have been led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of political front the Islamic State in Iraq. All but 47 of the prisoners have been recaptured, according to Iraqi police.

The Mosul attack particularly highlights the downside to pouring troops into Baghdad from the provinces. Iraqi Army and U.S. forces have been stripped from the city, and currently about one U.S. battalion remains inside Iraq's third largest city.

Major General Caldwell noted that Multinational Force Iraq is "seeing the same trends as previous Baghdad security plans," with violence migrating out to the provinces as Baghdad becomes more secure. But the operational commanders have built in flexibility into the planning, and , as we noted last week, the additional U.S. combat brigades may in fact be deployed to the provinces. "There are two complete U.S. combat brigades in Baghdad, while the lead elements of the 3rd brigade is in Kuwait," said Major General Caldwell. "We are situation dependent on where the 3rd, 4th and 5th brigades will go."

On the Baghdad front, there are now 23 Joint Security Stations (JSS) open in Baghdad, Major General Caldwell noted this morning. The Sadr City JSS should be fully operational in several days. While about 35 to 40 JSS were planned initially, the concept has yielded positive results. The Iraqi government and Coalition are now planning on opening over 70 Joint Security Stations inside Baghdad.

Currently 7 of the 9 Iraqi Army battalions are now deployed in Baghdad, and the final two are at the Besmaya training center south of Baghdad. The two battalions are currently manned at 75% and 103% strength. The Iraqis are training 7,500 new soldiers a month and are filling out the Iraqi battalions inside Baghdad.

Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to press the attack on al Qaeda country wide. Over the past 24 hours, 24 al Qaeda operatives were detained during operations in Baghdad, Rutbah and Karma. Inside Baghdad,Iraqi soldiers stopped an al Qaeda suicide car bomber before he could hit a police checkpoint. The suicide bomber was killed, while two soldiers and one policeman were injured in the explosion.

The Iraqi government is also pushing reconciliation. "Az-Zaman reported that the Iraqi Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, currently on a visit to Damascus, will be discussing with his Syrian hosts the possible return of several hundred Iraqi Army officers who have fled to Syria after the war and remained there," notes IraqSlogger. The Iraqi government is also attempting to influence the Syrian government to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq by dangling the prospect of reopening the Iraq-Syria oil pipeline. "It is important for the Syrian side to prevent the infiltration of saboteurs from its territories who target Iraqis and Iraq™s vital installations namely pipelines and oil projects," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahrastani said.

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