Friday, April 07, 2006

79 killed in bombing of Shiite mosque in Iraq; American troops pour into Iraqi Shiite towns of Najef &Karbala to meet Sadr militia threat

Not a good day in Iraq today.

Two terrorists disguised themselves as women and blew up a packed mosque beonging to SCIRI, the leading party of Iraq’s ruling Shiite Alliance.

Yesterday, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite shrine in the southern city of Najef killing at least 13 people.

The US military dispatched large Marine aasault force with armor, tank and helicopter support to the two Shiite shrine cities of Karbala and Najef after a threat by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr to overrun the Shiite cities and Baghdad’s Shiite suburb, if the Americans force the Iran-backed interim prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari to step down.

Armed Shiite tribesman have senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his staff have been smuggled out of the city, in fear that Sadr's Mehdi Army might try to take him hostage.

While US forces took control of central Najef, they are keeping to Karbala’s western outskirts, while Sadr’s men occupy the center and are building military positions. One of my sources tells me that the marines are under orders not to fire on Sadr's en unless they are fired on first.

Feluja redux, in other words. With one difference. Since Sadr's defeat by US forces in the summer of 2004, the Mehdi Army has undergone a masive buildup with the aid of Iran, Sadr's ultimate boss. They now have the best equipped force among the Shiites, and are much better armed and trained than their two Shiite rivals, the Badr Force and Wolves Brigades.

Talks between Iran and the US aimed at breaking Iraq’s political stalemate begin in Baghdad between a US delegation headed by ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and an Iranian delegation. Jaafari’s refusal to stand aside (or rather, the muscle provided to him by Iran and al Sadr) is the main hurdle in the way of a unity government.

Stay Tuned...

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