Reuters is reporting: "A giant column of black smoke was visible near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday after an apparent mortar strike, a Reuters reporter said." This as the fighting in Basra continues. In this morning's New York Times, James Glanz offers "Iraqi Amry's Assault on Militias in Basra Stalls:"
An assault by thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers to regain control of the southern port city of Basra stalled Wednesday as Shiite militiamen in the Mahdi Army fought daylong hit-and-run battles and refused to withdraw from the neighborhoods that form their base of power there.
American officials have presented the Iraqi Army's attempts to secure the port city as an example of its ability to carry out a major operation against the insurgency on its own. A failure there would be a serious embarrassment for the Iraqi government and for the army, as well as for American forces eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively on their own.
During a briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, a British military official said that of the nearly 30,000 Iraqi security forces involved in the assault, almost 16,000 were Basra police forces, which have long been suspected of being infiltrated by the same militias the assault was intended to root out.
Meanwhile Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the US government is concerned with bragging rights with both the White House and the Pentagon rushing forward yesterday to attempt to grab "partial credit for the Iraqi government's new military offensive". This despite the fact that, as Youssef notes, "There was no sign from the ground, however, that the new offensive, which involves 15,000 Iraqi troops and police units, was suceeding."
On the ground, Alexandra Zavis and Peter Spiegel (Los Angeles Times) observe, "Basra residents trapped in their homes by raging gun battles worried that food was running out with no end in sight to the clashes between Iraqi security forces and followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and other armed factions."
In Iraq, it's not as rah-rah as it is in DC. Martha notes this from Sudarsan Raghavan and Sholnn Freeman's "Maliki Gives Militias In Basra 72 Hours To Give Up Fight" (Washington Post):
But Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator, questioned the timing of the offensive, saying that Iraq's government has numerous other problems to deal with, including passing key laws and resolving tensions over oil contracts. Maliki, he said, did not discuss the offensive with parliament or other political groups.
"He just suddenly appeared in Basra," Othman said. "Everybody is asking, 'Why now?' "
Othman said the timing could help Shiite militias and neighboring Iran ahead of next month's visit to Washington by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, who will deliver to Congress a report card on Iraq's progress. "People have ill-advised Maliki," Othman said. "The militias like the timing. Iran likes the timing. They want to show there's no progress in Iraq."
The offensive could collapse a cease-fire ordered by Sadr last August that is widely credited with helping to reduce violence across the nation. A U.S. troop buildup and the rise of a Sunni movement against Islamist extremists have also contributed. U.S. commanders have hailed the cease-fire as a sign that Iraq is making progress and that U.S. policy is finally paying off.
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