Monday, March 31, 2008


Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.
Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Monday in most parts of the capital.
But fighting continued in the oil hub of Basra, where a six-day-old government offensive against Shiite militias has had only limited gains.
So far, 488 people have been killed and more than 900 wounded in the offensive, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.
The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.
There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

the above is from Leila Fadel's "Iranian general played key role in brokering Iraq cease-fire" (McClatchy Newspapers) and before going further on Basra, let's note this from McClatchy:

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes estimate the real cost of the Iraq war in their new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War." Stiglitz and Bilmes will answer questions for McClatchy readers between April 1 and April 15. Ask a question now.

Back to the battles. Has the call by Moqtada al-Sadr done anything? Martha notes Sudarsan Raghavan's report (Washington Post) on yesterday in Baghdad:

The mortar shells sailed across the sky Sunday evening and ripped through the corrugated tin roof of the barbershop. They shattered brick walls, mangled beams and knocked over leather chairs. Smoke, debris and glass covered the street outside.

There was blood on Abu Ghadeer's shirt. He had pulled out of the wreckage a boy who had come for a haircut but instead received a body full of shrapnel. Twenty minutes later, after an ambulance had taken the boy away, Abu Ghadeer struggled to understand.
"A week ago, life was good," he said. "Now, nobody knows what will happen."
For Iraqis, widespread clashes this past week have exposed their nation's brittleness. After months of relative calm and declining violence, many people were locking themselves inside their homes and shops again as Shiite gunmen battled U.S. and Iraqi forces. Curfews restricted their movement, yet they were still unable to escape the mortar and rocket fire.

And the fight in Basra continues. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports:

Even after Sadr's declaration, residents hunkered down in their homes continued to hear fierce gunfire and explosions in central Basra and southwest of the city. A militia commander reached by phone in the city said his men would remain in the street."

Of course we respect his eminence's initiative. However, the other side has to respect it too," said the fighter, who asked to be identified by a nickname, Abu Ahmed. "They are the ones who came to either arrest us or kill us unfairly."

The U.S. military said attacks had dropped off significantly in other parts of southern Iraq.In Baghdad, sporadic gunfire and shelling continued into the night. The military said it had killed 25 "armed criminals" in an airstrike after a patrol was ambushed in east Baghdad with roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and indirect fire, a military term for rockets or mortar rounds.

It was one of at least six airstrikes in Shiite-dominated parts of the capital Sunday that killed about 50 combatants, according to Maj. Mark Cheadle, a U.S. military spokesman.

As noted last night, the US (and possibly British) airstrikes across Iraq yesterday and Saturday did kill civilians. That's not in the article. The article does note the two deaths of US service members the military announced yesterday. Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jonathan Wald (CNN) quote the mouthpiece (Sami al-Askari) of the puppet of the occupation (Nouri al-Maliki) declaring "outlaws" will continue to be attacked in Basra but that the assault will wrap up by week's end.