Baghdad Crackdown Seeks Sunni Help

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 14, 2007; 3:27 PM

BAGHDAD -- The struggle to regain control of Baghdad crossed into its fifth month Thursday with the last of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers about to join an increasingly bitter fight. The security operation has failed to curb violence nationwide, and the number of American troops killed in the capital is on the rise.

But some potential bright spots have emerged in Baghdad's most lawless districts and troubled regions outside the capital: among them, a U.S. gambit to arm and train Sunni insurgents as proxy fighters against groups inspired by al-Qaida.

The risk is that the weapons could eventually be turned against Shiite civilians, the Shiite-led security forces or the Americans themselves. U.S. commanders, however, acknowledge that failure to bring order to the capital and the center of the country is an equally unsettling prospect.

The frustration doesn't stop there.

It's compounded by the perception in Washington that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament continue to drag their heels on important reforms. They include a plan to share Iraq's oil wealth and an important set of laws aimed at reconciling the bitter Sunni-Shiite divisions _ and the sectarian slaughter _ that required the security operation in the first place.

The whole idea of the Baghdad crackdown was to create what U.S. officials have termed a "breathing space" for Iraqi politicians to get things done _ the so-called benchmarks set down by the White House.

But, at the end of four months, violence is actually more acute nationwide, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

"We expect that the fight for security will get harder over the coming months as we engage an increasingly desperate enemy," said the No. 2 State Department official, John Negroponte, during a visit to Baghdad on Thursday. Less than a half-hour before his comments to reporters, a rocket landed in the city's protected Green Zone within 150 yards of Iraq's parliament.

In many ways, the Baghdad security crackdown condenses the entire messy conundrum of Iraq _ the strategies, rivalries and uncertainties _ into the boundaries of the beleaguered capital and its environs. Nearly every clash or retaliation _ no matter where in the country _ ripples eventually through the streets of Baghdad.

The point was driven home when suspected al-Qaida bombers struck again at a Shiite holy site 60 miles north of Baghdad.

In the chaotic hours after Wednesday's attack _ which brought down two minarets above the ruins of a mosque blown apart last year _ U.S. troops went on heightened alert in Baghdad and the government imposed a citywide traffic curfew until Saturday. Then a Shiite bloc snubbed parliament in protest, effectively freezing any movement toward the reforms demanded by Washington.

It's nothing close to the blueprint of the Pentagon-crafted Baghdad security plan, which was launched Feb. 14 and will not reach full battle capacity until later this month.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Associated Press