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Jul 5th, 2009

On Tuesday, June 30, 2009, Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq after the U.S. military, in accordance with the 2008 status-of-forces agreement between the United States and Iraq, handed over security in urban areas as a first step toward toward ending the U.S. combat role in Iraq by August 2010 and withdrawing all American trainers and advisers by the December 31, 2011 deadline specified in the security pact.

Accordingly, this site will no longer routinely report security developments in Iraq, unless there is a significant escalation in violence or security incidents involving U.S. troops. Similar guidelines will be applied in reporting on the conflict in Afghanistan.

This site will continue to report all U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Iraqis Skeptical About Significance of U.S. Pullback

An Iraqi Army soldier performs guard duty in central Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, July 5, 2009. Iraqis are skeptical that much will change after last week’s pullback of U.S. combat troops from Baghdad and other cities, a sentiment not shared by their government. (Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / AP)

July 5, 2009

BAGHDAD — Iraqis are skeptical that much will change after last week’s pullback of U.S. combat troops from Baghdad and other cities, a sentiment not shared by their government.

The government declared the June 30 pullback National Sovereignty Day and celebrated it with a military parade and noisy street celebrations by Iraqi soldiers and police. But there was no spontaneous outpouring of joy by Iraqis since many of them did not see the move as significant, with some 130,000 U.S. troops remaining in the country.

“The celebrations were contrived, almost like a farce,” said Salman Hassan, who runs an electrical supplies store in eastern Baghdad. “The Americans did not go anywhere far, they are on the outskirts of our cities.”

Like many others in Baghdad, Hassan says he will not remember the Americans kindly. But, ironically, he says he finds comfort in the fact that the Americans remain close.

“Our forces are not ready yet to take sole responsibility. They need two more years to be ready to defend us.”

The withdrawal from the cities, which was completed Tuesday, is part of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that lays the ground for a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Most troops pulled back to bases outside urban areas, but the U.S. military left an undisclosed number behind to train and advise the Iraqis. The U.S. military has refused to reveal their number, fearful of feeding any criticism that the Americans aren’t honoring the pact or casting doubt on the ability of the Iraqis to handle security alone.

The ambivalence felt by most Iraqis over the 2003 U.S.-led invasion appears to have been duplicated over the departure of the Americans from the cities. Many are happy to see them go, yet they are not convinced their army and police are ready to protect them as well as maintain the security gains made over the past two years.

Conflicted feelings toward the Americans has been deepened by image-transforming changes the U.S. military introduced to the way troops interact with Iraqis. They swapped their heavy-handed tactics of the war’s early years with a culturally sensitive approach since 2007 that won over much of the population and isolated the militants.

“Not every one of us felt the same about the Americans,” said Atta Zeidan, co-owner of a Baghdad book store.

“There is no universal resentment or hatred for the Americans. Love or hatred of the Americans has in large part depended on everyone’s personal experience,” he said. …

Iraq’s security forces, which number 650,000, have spent years in the shadow of their better equipped and more disciplined U.S. mentors, learning counterinsurgency tactics, intelligence gathering techniques and combat skills.

But the Iraqis continue to struggle with logistics and professional conduct. It is not uncommon to see soldiers at checkpoints speaking on their mobile phones or dozing off while sitting aside in the shade.

They also lack reliable networks for fuel distribution, equipment repairs and salary payments. Chipping away at the public’s confidence in their abilities is the adoption by some of the younger soldiers of an “American look” — dark, wraparound sunglasses, bandanas and knee and elbow pads — accessories Iraqis see as alien to their military traditions.

Many Iraqis also see hints of sectarian bias in the Shiite-dominated security forces, particularly the national police, and a disregard for human rights. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about the torture of detainees in jails run by Iraq’s interior ministry, which oversees the police, but the government insists that offenders risk the full weight of the law.

“They are not trusted by people,” said Haidar Mohammed, a 28-year-old government employee from eastern Baghdad. “Many are not professional soldiers, their loyalty is to their political parties.”

Nothing of substance has changed in Baghdad since June 30, except that thousands of additional Iraqi troops and police have deployed across the city, backed in potential troublespots with tanks and armored vehicles. The lines at some of the hundreds of checkpoints have grown longer, possibly because of more thorough checks.

The city is no longer constantly buzzed by low-flying American helicopters and there were no American soldiers in sight during several tours of the city over the past few days.

However, U.S. jet fighters flying at high altitude occasionally scream across the Baghdad sky.

Al-Maliki’s confidence in his security forces appears to be unwavering, but many see that vote of confidence to be linked to his political ambitions. Parliamentary elections are due in January and his chances for a second term in office depend heavily on whether recent security gains endure and the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is adhered to, with all combat U.S. forces out of the country by August 2010 and the rest by the end of 2011.

His failure to publicly thank the Americans in his June 30 address or mention that some American troops are staying behind in Baghdad and other cities as advisers and trainers are clearly designed to project a politically beneficial image of himself as a nationalist leader who oversaw the growth and improvement of Iraq’s armed forces.

“Al-Maliki is clearly trying to take advantage of the June 30 withdrawal so he and his party improve their chances in the elections,” said Hassan Raheem, a 46-year-old Baghdad businessman.

Full story


June Is Deadliest Month for Iraqis This Year

July 1, 2009

BAGHDAD — At least 447 Iraqi civilians were killed in June, double the toll from the previous month, according to an Associated Press tally, as insurgents took aim at crowded areas to maximize the number of casualties.

The spike in violence reflects the stiff challenges facing Iraqi security forces following the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from urban areas this week. But the numbers are still far lower than previous years, and the bombings by suspected Sunni extremists are not triggering the type of retaliatory attacks from Shiite militias that nearly led to civil war in 2006-2007.

The number of American troop deaths, meanwhile, dropped to 15 in June after an eight-month high of 25 in May. Four U.S. soldiers were killed Monday — the last day of regular combat operations in the cities.

The high Iraqi toll was fueled by several huge bombings over the past 10 days, including the deadliest blast this year in a Shiite town near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. At least 82 people were killed in the June 20 attack.

That and most of the other bombings targeted market districts, mosques or other public areas to avoid detection and kill as many people as possible. …

June was the deadliest month for Iraqis this year, excluding April, when the deaths of 82 Iranian pilgrims in a bombing pushed the toll to 451, an AP count showed. There were 225 Iraqis killed in May.

Overall violence remains at lower levels than past years after a U.S. troop buildup in 2007, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a Shiite militia cease-fire. But Iraqis continue to face dangers on a daily basis.

In the first six months of this year, war-related violence killed at least 1,902 Iraqis, compared with 4,809 killed in the first six months of 2008, according to the AP tally. …

“I think the Iraqi people are happy because they have suffered a lot of humiliation and killing by U.S. soldiers who were operating inside cities,” Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said. “But if the political rifts continue, security problems will increase and the U.S. soldiers will again be needed on the streets of Iraqi cities.”

U.S. troops remain as advisers

Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers have been blamed for some of Iraq’s worst violence, said the pullback left him “filled with hope.” But he expressed concern because some Americans will remain in urban areas as trainers and advisers.

“If the occupation forces breach the claimed withdrawal even with the government’s cover, then the people have the right to express their opinion by peaceful means and the right of self-defense in a way that does not harm the Iraqi people or security forces,” he said.

Al-Sadr’s militiamen fought fierce battles with U.S. forces in 2004 and were believed responsible for brutal retaliatory sectarian attacks against Sunnis. The cleric called a cease-fire after U.S.-backed government offensives routed his fighters. …

Full story


Related report

Iraq: Key figures since the war began



2 GIs Die in Bombing, Gunfight at Afghan Base

July 4, 2009

KABUL — Taliban militants fired rockets and mortars at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing two American troops in a fierce battle as thousands of Marines in the south continued with their massive anti-Taliban push.

The multi-pronged attack in eastern Paktika province — where an American soldier was captured this week — included a truck bombing near the camp’s gates. The battle ended only after U.S. forces called in airstrikes on militants.

The battle near the Pakistan border is hundreds of miles from the massive Marine assault in southern Helmand province. It underscores the militants’ ability to inflict casualties on the over-stretched U.S. forces as they widen their battle against the Taliban, who have made a violent comeback following their initial defeat in the American-led 2001 invasion.

Obama orders more troops

Responding to the deteriorating security situation, President Barack Obama’s administration has ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year’s end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

As part of the new strategy, 4,000 Marines poured into volatile Helmand province on Thursday in the biggest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since 2001, trying to cut insurgent supply lines and win over local elders.

More than 30 insurgents were killed in the Saturday battle in Zerok district of Paktika province, said Hamidullah Zawak, the provincial governor spokesman. Seven American and two Afghan troops were wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Attack helicopters, airstrikes and fire from U.S. troops killed at least 10 militants, according to a statement from the NATO-led force under which these American troops fight. Troops detained one militant, it said. The discrepancy in the militant death tolls could not immediately be reconciled.

Rockets, mortar fire pepper base

During the battle, an insurgent drove a truck filled with explosives and gravel toward the gates of the U.S. base, Zawak said. When the driver did not heed warnings to stop, troops opened fire on the truck, which exploded, he said.

The blast happened as rocket and mortar fire peppered the base, killing two U.S. troops and wounding seven other American soldiers, said Spc. April Campbell, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

The clash lasted for two hours before U.S.-called airstrikes that ended the fight, Zawak said.

Two Afghan soldiers were also wounded. The base housed both U.S. and Afghan soldiers.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. After the blast, some 100 Taliban fighters fired at the coalition troops for several hours, briefly taking over two of their checkpoints, Mujaheed said.

Campbell denied the Taliban ever took over any checkpoints.

Zawak said that 32 insurgents were killed in the airstrikes and that authorities have already recovered 16 bodies. Mujaheed said five insurgents were killed and three were wounded.

It is impossible to independently verify Zawak’s and Mujaheed’s claims because the base is in a remote area.

American soldier reported missing

Saturday’s attack happened in the same province where an American soldier and three Afghans were believed captured by insurgents Tuesday.

U.S. troops continued looking for the soldier, Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo said Friday. The military has not publicly identified him.

No immediate claim of responsibility was made by any insurgent group for the missing soldier or Saturday’s attack.

A Taliban faction led by Sirajuddin Haqqani operate in the area where the attack took place. The U.S. has accused Haqqani of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings, including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 60 people.

In southern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a roadside bomb Saturday killed seven policemen in Kandahar province, the Interior Ministry statement said. Another two Afghan soldiers died in a separate blast in Helmand province’s Musa Qala district also Saturday, the Defense Ministry said.

Full story


Related report

Earn our trust or go, Afghan villagers tell GIs


7/6/2009 Update

4 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Bombing

July 6, 2009

KABUL — A roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan killed four American soldiers Monday, while a suicide attack in the south killed two civilians, officials said.

The bombing in the northern Kunduz province targeted an American military convoy, said Kunduz Gov. Mohammad Omar. …

Omar said the attack happened in the Ali Abad district of Kunduz province and wounded two Afghan civilians.

Increasing insurgent attacks

In comparison to the country’s south and east, northern Afghanistan is relatively quiet. But roadside and other insurgent attacks have been increasing in the last few years.

The attack came after a suicide car bomber blew himself up outside the outer gate of the main NATO base in southern Afghanistan, killing two civilians and wounding 14 other people. …

Full story

7 Responses to “Deadly June for Iraqis”
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