Iraqi Leader Plans Security Push

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 7, 2007

BAGHDAD, Jan. 6 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned Baghdad residents Saturday to expect the disruptions of a heightened military presence and said his government was ready to launch the latest effort to pacify the violent Iraqi capital.

As if to punctuate the announcement, the Iraqi army clashed with insurgents in a Sunni Arab neighborhood on the west bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad. The fighting along Haifa Street, raging into the night, killed 30 insurgents, and Iraqi soldiers captured eight others, including five Sudanese fighters, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said.

Despite fierce ongoing fighting in western Iraq and violence capable of erupting almost anywhere, Baghdad remains the heart of the country's sectarian conflict. Maliki, in his speech at a morning ceremony honoring the Iraqi army, warned rival political parties against interfering in his plan, which Askari said would start "very soon."

"The Baghdad security plan will not offer a safe shelter for outlaws, regardless of their ethnic and political affiliations, and we will punish anyone who hesitates to implement orders because of his ethnic and political background," Maliki said.

Maliki's words appeared intended to counter the perception that the plan would focus on combating Sunni insurgents. An aide to Maliki, Hasan Suneid, a Shiite Muslim lawmaker, told the Associated Press that the Iraqi army would devote 20,000 additional troops to the capital and begin by combating Sunni insurgents in western Baghdad.

Askari said there would "definitely be more troops" but declined to provide a figure.

Maliki's speech provided few details about the tactical or strategic changes guiding the forthcoming effort. But his aides described an effort that relies on U.S. troops to combat Sunni insurgents on the outskirts of Baghdad. Those areas are where the Sunni insurgents plan and manufacture the deadly explosives that detonate regularly in the city.

"Maliki believes that it is in this ring that the attacks are coming from," one of his aides said.

The Iraqi forces would target the most violent neighborhoods, and commanders would have a greater degree of autonomy in their assigned sections of the city, Askari said.

Maliki believes that if the additional troops can effect a decrease in violence over the next two months, then he can negotiate more effectively with Shiite militia leaders in the city and improve his chances of disarming them, his aides said.

The announcement was greeted with little enthusiasm in Baghdad, where sectarian killing has escalated despite repeated attempts at cracking down on insurgents and militiamen. During Operation Together Forward, an effort to secure the capital last summer, more than 10,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers failed to halt the worsening violence.

Wamid Nadhmi, a political analyst in Baghdad, said Maliki had promised several times to restore security in Baghdad and was now offering "a new plan, without explaining why the other plans were complete failures."

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