Fighting Shia-on-Shia Violence in Diwaniyah
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's go next to a city 90 miles southeast of Baghdad, Diwaniyah. It's been plagued by violence for months, but that violence is not typical of the war in Iraq. It does not pit Sunni insurgents against U.S. forces or against the Iraqi army or against Shia militias. In this case it is Shia on Shia violence, a struggle for political control. Since last Friday an operation has been underway to quell the violence, and NPR's Mike Shuster has the story.
MIKE SHUSTER: In several northern neighborhoods of Diwaniyah, an estimated 300 gunmen of the Shiite Mahdi Army had imposed their form of Islamic law and control. The Mahdi Army is led by the well known radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In Diwaniyah, it was challenging the political power of another Shiite group, the Badr Corps, which controls the provincial council and the governor's office. The Badr Corps is the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an important Shiite political party in the national government and arrival of al-Sadr. So the local leaders in Diwaniyah asked the U.S., its multinational allies, and the Iraqi Army for help.
Last Friday, the operation began. The Mahdi men were not match for the 3,000-strong coalition force. By Sunday, most of the fighting was over, and yesterday General Oothman Farhood declared the operation a success.
Major General OOTHMAN FARHOOD AL-GHANEMI (Iraqi Army): (Through translator) We found a lot of IEDs and explosives. And the people of Diwaniyah are cooperating with us to bring the city back to what it was before, to a safe city and secure city.
SHUSTER: Casualties do appear to have been minimal. Local sources put the number of killed at just over 20. The operation was mounted out of Camp Echo, on the south side of Diwaniyah. Camp Echo is truly a coalition base. It is commanded by a Polish general and includes soldiers from Slovakia, Latvia, Ukraine, and even Mongolia. About 600 American troops took part. Just one American was killed by rocket fire on Sunday. The Americans are commanded by Colonel Michael Garrett, who talked yesterday about the 40 or so militia that the coalition forces took prisoner.
Colonel MICHAEL GARRETT (U.S. Army): All of the detainees to date are Iraqi citizens. To my knowledge, the majority are from Diwaniyah. However, there are indications that some are from outside of the province.
SHUSTER: Thus supporting the suggestion that as the U.S.-led security operation in Baghdad was unfolding, it was leading to renewed conflict in other areas of Iraq. American officers said they had discovered two explosives factories under the control of the militia, where they were assembling so-called explosively formed penetrators. These are especially deadly roadside bombs that can disable tanks. U.S. commanders believe many of the parts for these bombs come from Iran.
When the operation began on Friday, the city was sealed off and no deliveries of food and water were permitted for four days. Local reporters complained yesterday to the provincial governor that he had failed to provide adequately for the city's population during the fighting.
Unidentified Man: (Through translator) Can the local government coordinate to provide services such as medical at least for the citizen of the Diwaniyah?
SHUSTER: The governor, Khalil Jalil Hamzah, insisted deliveries of food and water would resume as of today. He said secrecy surrounding the operation had hindered the local government's ability to provide adequate medical support.
Governor KHALIL JALIL HAMZAH (Diwaniyah): (Through translator) The operation, in the beginning, was not being coordinated with the local government. But now, from yesterday to today, nothing happened, everything moving smoothly and good.
SHUSTER: In fact, the plans for the operation in Diwaniyah were withheld not only from civilian officials but from most of the police as well, who were believed to be allies of the Mahdi militia. This is the third time since last August that U.S. and coalition forces have been called in to fight the Mahdi Army in Diwaniyah. Each time, they quickly withdrew after the fight. Now, commanders say, they will remain in the city until some sort of political stability has been established.
Mike Shuster, NPR News, Diwaniyah.
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