Monday, August 13, 2007

Us forces on the offensive once again..

U.S. forces launch new offensive in Iraq August 13, 2007 By Ross Colvin BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an offensive against al Qaeda and "Iranian-supported" Shi'ite militants across Iraq on Monday in anticipation of an expected surge in violence. U.S. commanders fear militants will step up attacks on U.S. soldiers or launch a "spectacular" attack on civilians to try to influence the debate over the war in Washington, where a keenly awaited progress report on the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq is due to be presented to Congress in September. In Baghdad, leaders of Iraq's divided Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni Arab communities held a series of bilateral talks ahead of an expected summit this week.The summit is aimed at healing the deep mistrust that has paralysed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national unity government and plunged it into its worst crisis."Everything will be on the table. It is like the days when we were forming the government, except that Maliki himself is not going to be replaced," said a Shi'ite official familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.Those taking part in Monday's preparatory bilateral talks were Maliki, Deputy President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni and member of the Accordance Front; President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Deputy President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a member of the powerful Shi'ite Supreme Islamic Iraq Council; and Masoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region.The U.S. military described Operation Phantom Strike as "a powerful crackdown" jointly carried out by Iraqi troops."It consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused in pursuing AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements," it said in a statement.The U.S. military says Iran has stepped up its support for Shi'ite militias, giving them more weapons and training, to hasten the departure of U.S. troops. Iran denies giving any aid.The statement gave no details of the operation or how many of the 162,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq were involved.U.S. forces have launched a series of offensives in recent weeks, particularly in beltways around Baghdad that have become safe havens for al Qaeda car bomb networks and Shi'ite militias.Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the day-to-day commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told Reuters in an interview at the weekend his forces were adapting their tactics to counter an expected surge in militant attacks over the next month.The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to present a report to Congress in September on the success of the troop build-up and Iraqi political progress towards reconciliation.U.S. President George W. Bush has sent 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to give Maliki's Shi'ite-led government breathing room to agree a real power-sharing deal between the warring sects.U.S. forces have claimed successes in reducing the level of sectarian violence following the capture or killing of a number of al Qaeda leaders, strikes against Shi'ite militia cells and operations to clear areas of militants and then hold them.But a reluctance to compromise by the main political blocs means there has been little political progress. Legislation seen as crucial by Washington to reconciliation and ending sectarian bloodshed that has killed tens of thousands has stalled.It includes laws on sharing Iraq's oil wealth and easing restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party serving in the civil service, reforming the constitution and setting a date for provincial elections. Maliki's government has also been hit by walkouts.The main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, has quit, following in the footsteps of ministers loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who withdrew in April in protest of Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.The Accordance Front complained Maliki had marginalised them and ignored demands for the provision of improved services to majority Sunni Arab provinces, a greater say in security matters and the release of prisoners detained without charge.Ministers loyal to former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi began a boycott of cabinet meetings last week, saying Maliki had ignored a list of demands they had submitted in February.

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