Iraq War Surge Reducing Overall Violence Despite Bombs

After weeks of negotiations with local community leaders, more than 1,000 US and Iraqi soldiers hit the streets of Sadr City on Sunday to further advance the new joint security plan for Baghdad. The plan seems to be reducing the level of overall violence in the capital and gaining the trust of local residents, despite the continuing horror of car bombings, the most recent of which killed 26 people in Baghdad’s literary district on Monday.

The push into Sadr City, stronghold of the Shiite Mahdi Army loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, included 600 American troops and 550 Iraqi security forces. Backed up by US Stryker armored vehicles, they swept through the district carrying out security patrols, conducting house-to-house searches for illegal weapons, and converting the al-Jazair police station into a Joint Security Station.

At the end of the day, the US military reported that there had been no resistance, no violence, no illegal weapons found and no arrests.

The relative calm in Sadr City did not surprise the military, since Mr al-Sadr and key Mahdi Army leaders have fled to Iran to avoid arrest during the implementation of the new security plan.

“A lot of bad guys are lying low,” Colonel Doug Heckman, senior adviser to the 9th Iraqi Army Division, told the TimesOnline. “The difference between last time and this is stability … We know last time we petered out. We are not going to make that same mistake again.”

The new counterinsurgency plan emphasizes consulting with local leaders, developing a rapport with the community and maintaining a presence in cleared neighborhoods to ensure ongoing security for residents.

Most significantly for Sunni residents of Baghdad, the US and Iraqi forces are targeting both Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents, and there are signs that this may be gaining the trust of Sunnis. Acting on a tip-off, Iraqi agents rescued kidnapped Defense Ministry advisor Lt. Gen. Thamir Sultan from a house in predominantly Sunni western Baghdad on Sunday. They also arrested his four captors.

While the high visibility of troops and the prevalence of hundreds of checkpoints throughout Baghdad have reduced death squad killings, deadly car bombings persist.

Early on Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded a short distance from the Shah Bander café, described by Reuters as “a beacon of Baghdad’s once thriving literary life”.

The blast killed 26 people and wounded 54. It also shattered rows of shop front windows, set dozens of bookstores and cars ablaze and sent a dense plume of black smoke rising over Baghdad. Witnesses said charred bodies lay half-buried in the rubble, alongside blackened and bloody book pages, with the smoke so thick it initially prevented rescue efforts.

As the new security plan enters its third week on Wednesday, US and Iraqi officials are keenly aware that this is a last-ditch effort to restore security in the troubled capital. Last week, at a White House meeting that included a group of governors, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Peter Pace told the gathering, “Plan B is to make Plan A work.”

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