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Daily Iraq Report for March 9, 2007

Baghdad and the provinces have been quiet for the past 24 hours, after a string of deadly suicide and car bomb attacks on Shia pilgrims on Wednesday. Of the estimated 2.5 million Shia pilgrims who traveled to Karbala, about 150 were killed during the attacks.

Today, Iraqi and Coalition forces were on the offensive. The most significant operation occurred at Zaidon near the Baghdad International Airport Complex. An Apache helicopter, backed by ground forces, destroyed "a platoon-sized element of enemy fighters." A platoon consists of about 30 to 40 fighters. the insurgents prepared an ambush, and had a truck with "anti-aircraft heavy machine gun mounted in the bed." Twelve were confirmed killed, and the truck was destroyed.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has formed anti aircraft cells in an attempt to negate America's air superiority. Up to six Coalition helicopters have been downed by al Qaeda ground fire. Recently the Coalition captured members of an anti aircraft cell. This has likely led to intelligence on the makeup and operating habits of other cells.

In a sign of Iraq's developing military capabilities, Iraqi soldiers conducted 2 separate air assaults in Bayji and Tikrit, capturing 32 insurgents. The U.S. has been developing the Iraqi Army's air assault capabilities for years.

Coalition forces killed one al-Qaeda and captured 16 in other targeted operations in Mosul, Fallujah and Karma. The captured include "an alleged al-Qaeda media emir," "an al-Qaeda related suspect known as 'The Butcher' who is allegedly responsible for numerous kidnappings, beheadings, and suicide operations" and "two suspected terrorists with alleged ties to foreign fighter facilitation."

On the Muqtada al-Sadr front, the rumors from Karbala are that Sadr has returned from Iran. He claims he never left. IraqSlogger reports that Nahrain Net, Sadr's media mouthpiece, claimed Sadr addressed several hundred followers in Karbala after weeks of hiding. This has not been confirmed by outside media sources, and Sadr may still well be in Iran. Sadr also released a statement renouncing violence and secularism, and called for the withdrawal of the "occupiers." Sadr is now conducting an information after weeks of being sidelined.

The U.S. has indicated it will "confront Syria and Iran directly at a regional meeting on Iraq this weekend with charges they are actively fomenting the violence tearing their neighbor apart."

David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top adviser on Iraq, said the US delegation would press Damascus and Tehran to respond publicly to the accusations at the conference grouping Iraq, its neighbors and the main United Nations powers.

"The vast majority of all of the bombings taking place, the things that you see every day on television, are the responsibility of foreigners -- the vast majority of those foreigners continue to come across the Syrian border," he said. "Action needs to be taken."

He accused Damascus of also turning a blind eye to the activities of former associates of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who "play a significant role in the financing and direction of the insurgency" from exile in Syria.

With the recent defection of Ali Reza Asgari, a former general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force, deputy defense minister and the "father of Hezbollah," the United States has some extra ammunition to use against Syria and Iran. Asgari is said to have intimate knowledge of Iran's nuclear program and arming of Iraqi insurgents and militias.

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