SUNNI REBELS TARGETED AS SHIITE REBELS LAY LOW DURING "SURGE"
What's the Real Goal of the Surge?
imagination needs to be injected into Iraq's newly implemented security plan to put an end to the bloodletting in Baghdad if it is to succeed, a former Iraqi army officer told IRIN.
"There should be an imaginative effort to augment the military operations. You can easily deploy thousands of soldiers in the streets and seal off whatever you want in neighborhoods or streets for unlimited periods, but you can't stop a suicide bomber with a belt of explosives or [bomb-laden] car," said retired army General Salaheddin Baqer al-Hammad.
"What is happening is that Shia militias have now disappeared from the streets to have time to organize themselves while Sunni militants are trying to show that they are still active. The government should infiltrate these militant groups, know who their key leaders are and expose their plans," added al-Hammad, who served 33 years in the former Iraqi army.
Since 'Operation Imposing Law' was launched by U.S. and Iraqi forces on February 14, the number of those thought to be victims of Shia death squads has dropped dramatically in Baghdad, but there has been no respite in violence blamed on Sunni insurgents, say security specialists in the capital.
The NGO Iraq Body Count reported a 40 percent decrease in civilian deaths in Baghdad from February 14-25. It said that on average 75 civilians were killed a day in Iraq during this period, as opposed to an average of 122 a day from the first two weeks February.
Iraq Body Count noted that a death toll of around 580 civilians in the week ending February 25 was still high.
On February 25, a female suicide bomber triggered a ball bearing-packed charge, killing at least 41 people at a Shia-dominated Baghdad college whose main gate was left littered with blood-soaked student notebooks and papers amid the bodies.
According to witnesses, security guards at the Mustansiriyah University annex scuffled with the bomber before the blast. Most of the victims were students, including at least 55 injured, police said.
The college where the blast occurred is controlled by the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr, who said after the attack that the new security crackdown was doomed to fail and called on the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq.
The university's main campus was hit by a string of bombings last month that killed more than 100 people.
Of the other major attacks that have occurred since the security crackdown began, one of the most deadly happened on February 18, when 62 people were killed by bombs at a secondhand market in Baghdad.
While analysts agree that the number of people killed in Baghdad has dropped significantly since February 14, most are not convinced that this will be long-lasting, as militas are simply lying low or committing more violent acts outside the capital.
"The element of surprise should have been considered in such a security crackdown but, instead, the government was talking about this operation months before it was activated and this gave Shia militias enough time to disappear," said Jalal Khalid Atta, a Baghdad-based security analyst.
"On top of that, the government is focusing more on Sunni areas of Baghdad rather than Shia ones and that has forced Sunnis to fight back fiercely, fearing that the government intends to 'de-Sunnify' Baghdad," Atta added.
Atta went on to say that there should also have been real reconciliation between Shia and Sunni politicians and religious leaders before the launch of the Baghdad security plan.
Brig. Qassim al-Mousawi, spokesman of the Baghdad security plan, defended the governmental crackdown as a plan to "achieve security and stability in the capital by imposing the same pressure on all sides."
He said that since the beginning of the plan, 70 terrorists had been killed, 451 arrested including non-Iraqi Arab fighters, 370 suspects detained and 17 hostages freed. In addition he said U.S. and Iraqi forces had defused 97 roadside bombs and 23 car bombs, while seizing a ton of TNT, 24kg of C4 explosives, 46 kg of gunpowder and some 11,000 different kinds of ammunition.
Authorities said that about 650 families had returned to their homes in Baghdad since the new crackdown began. But it is still unclear how many displaced Iraqis will trust the government's assurances that they will be protected against militias and sectarian death squads if they do return to their original homes.
The humanitarian situation in Baghdad has neither deteriorated, nor improved since the crackdown began, aid workers said.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), the only aid agency working throughout the country, said that its humanitarian assistance is not being hampered by the new security plan and that its staff and voluntary workers still have access to all those who need assistance in Baghdad.
"Our work is going on smoothly and normally along with the security plan and we still have access to all those who need our assistance. We're ready for any emergencies as we are monitoring the situation," a spokesman with the NGO said.
[Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]
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