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Iraq Report: Diwaniyah, Ramadi chlorine attack update

The fighting in the southern Shia city of Diwaniyah completed its second day. Yesterday morning, Iraqi and U.S. forces launched Operation Black Eagle "to continue disruption of militia activity." Again, the Mahdi Army, while not named, is the target of the operation. In today's fighting, which was less intense than yesterday's, U.S. air support was called in to strike at Mahdi fighters carrying RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). One Mahdi fighter was killed in the strike. Mahdi spokemen claimed 5 civilians were killed, including women and children.

Thirty-nine Mahdi fighters were captured during two day, and several weapons caches were discovered. "Four EFP [Explosively Formed Projectile] cones and other EFP-making materials" were found among other IED materials and weapons. The Iranians have been manufacturing and shipping the deadly weapons to Mahdi fighters. EFP attacks have spiked the past two days. Yesterday, four British soldiers were killed in an EFP attack in Basra, and one U.S. soldier was killed and 4 wounded in an EFP attack in Baghdad.

Diwaniyah is a stronghold of Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army, and Mahdi Army activity has been on the rise in the southern city. The timing is also interesting as Sadr has called for a general protest against the U.S. presence in Iraq on April 9. U.S. and Iraqi forces fought pitched battles against Sadr's forces in Diwaniyah last October where the militia took a beating, and captured a senior Sadr aide in the city during that time frame.

The casualties in yesterday's al Qaeda chlorine gas suicide attack in Ramadi have been revised downward. Twelve were killed and 43 wounded, including 8 women, 5 children and a Policeman, after Iraqi police engaged a truck packed with explosives and chlorine canisters with gunfire. "It is unclear whether the police gunfire caused the vehicle to explode or if the driver detonated it," notes Multinational Forces Iraq.

In Baghdad the troop deployments in support of the Baghdad Security Plan continue. The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) has arrived in Iraq, and "will be deployed in and around the city of Baghdad." This is the third of five U.S. combat infantry brigades assigned to the Baghdad Security Plan that has arrived in theater. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, a Kurdish battalion, is en route to Baghdad from Kirkuk. Kirkuk has seen an increase in al Qaeda attacks of late as the terrorist group is seeking to divide the region on sectarian lines.

Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to hunt al Qaeda and insurgent cells nationwide. Coalition forces killed one car bomb cell leader and captured eight other terrorists during operations in Baghdad and Ramadi. The Baghdad car bomb cell leader is said to have led a cell of 40 to 50 men. Iraqi police captured two insurgent suspects after raiding the Husaniyah Mosque in Musayyib.

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