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Sep 29th, 2010

Attacks on Baghdad Green Zone Surge

Top U.S. commander suggests Iranian-backed militias are behind the violence

Image: Civilians wounded in roadside bomb blasts in Baghdad
An Iraqi man walks past the site of two roadside bomb blasts in central Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. Four civilians were wounded in the blasts. (Photo credit: Ali Abbas / EPA)

By Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker

Published online September 29, 2010


BAGHDAD — The heavily fortified Green Zone in Iraq’s capital has in recent weeks come under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks, and a senior American military commander suggested Wednesday that Iranian-backed militias were behind the attacks in an effort to influence the formation of a new Iraqi government.

The attacks — 23 in the past month, including 2 on Wednesday — have alarmed American officials and raised questions about the ability of Iraq’s security forces to stamp out attacks on the capital’s governmental and diplomatic core. …

The attacks have not been particularly accurate or lethal, although in the past week at least two people were killed in Karada, a neighborhood in a sharp bend of the Tigris River opposite the Green Zone, or international zone, where Iraqi government offices and foreign embassies are concentrated. …

One rocket last week crashed into the home of the former speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, wounding several people. At the American Embassy, “duck and cover” sirens have become a regular occurrence. …

The recent attacks have been so worrisome that the Pentagon’s civilian and military leaders were briefed on them last week. At least two of the rockets struck the sprawling American Embassy compound in late August, but there has not been a fatal attack there since July, when a rocket killed three foreign security contractors and wounded 15 people, including two American citizens. …

Unlike the recurring carnage carried out and claimed by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni insurgent groups, the rocket attacks are a signature of Shiite extremist groups, some of them affiliated, at least loosely, with political parties now vying for political power.

They include the Promised Day Brigade, allied with the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers won 39 seats in the new 325-member Parliament and have since emerged as a potent bloc in the political negotiations.

The Sadrists have joined a still shaky alliance with other Shiite parties and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s bloc, but they oppose Mr. Maliki’s election to a second term in office. A self-imposed deadline to select a unified candidate within the alliance passed on Monday night, with leaders saying they needed more time.

“There is a political component behind indirect fire attacks,” the American military commander in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Ralph O. Baker, said Wednesday, using the military argot for rocket or mortar attacks. “Maliki has run on a platform of improved security, and it’s conceivable that if rockets land in the international zone, then it discredits his security platform and makes him vulnerable from a political standpoint as these negotiations are occurring.”

General Baker and other commanders here blamed Iran for training and equipping the Shiite militias. In an interview on Tuesday, the chief American military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, attributed the attacks to “at least some elements in Iran,” if not the government directly. “They’re capable of turning up the heat and turning it down,” he said. …

So far this year, there have been 134 rocket or mortar attacks in Baghdad, according to figures provided by General Baker’s command. Each attack can include one or more rockets. Of those, 49 have come in the past 90 days. Rocket and mortar attacks have also struck American bases around the country, killing an American soldier, Sgt. Brandon E. Maggart, in Basra on Aug. 22. …

Read the full story at the New York Times


Related reports on this site

Image: Iraq election
Karim Kadim / AP

Iraq Election Violence Continues (June 20, 2010)

Iraq Election Turmoil (April 26, 2010)

Iraq Election Violence (March 8, 2010)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — September 29, 2009

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Sgt. Titus R. Reynolds, 23, Columbus, Ohio, died Sept. 24, 2009 in Omar Zai, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.

Titus Reynolds graduated from Reynoldsburg High School in 2005. He was known as a good neighbor, helping neighbors haul groceries inside or playing electric guitar and bass for his church band.

He is survived by his wife, Nikki; his parents; and two brothers and a sister.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — September 29, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 20

Two years ago today, on the 20th day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I reported on mass-casualty bombings in Baghdad and a lecture by Juan Cole on the foreign policy implications of the Iraq war.

Demonstrators display anti-U.S. placards during a protest in Kufa, 75 miles south of Baghdad, Sept. 26, 2008. The placards read: “Iraq will not become a U.S. colony.” (Photo credit: Reuters / Ali Abu Shish)

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