U.S. troops face increasing dangers in southern Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) — American forces are facing an increasingly dangerous environment in southern Iraq, where Shiite militias trying to claim they are driving out the U.S. occupiers have stepped up attacks against bases and troops.
The uptick in violence serves as a warning about what American forces could face if U.S. and Iraqi officials come to an agreement about keeping more U.S. troops in the country past Dec. 31.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Col. Reginald Allen, who commands the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which operates in five predominantly Shiite provinces. “This environment is very fluid, but in general our planning assumptions and our precautions are based on the worst case, that levels of violence will continue to increase.”
Two were killed in Babil province by indirect fire, the military’s term for rockets or mortars; two more were killed by a roadside bomb in Wasit province, which borders Iran; and the last was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Qadisiyah province.
About 46,000 American troops remain in Iraq, focusing on training Iraqi forces. That level is down from high in 2007 of nearly 170,000 troops. U.S. soldiers still come under attack from rockets or mortars on their bases and from roadside bombs and shootings when they’re moving around the country.
Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the attacks indicate an increased confidence by militias to engage U.S. forces. He noted that the militants have been targeting vulnerable U.S. supply lines. The vast majority of supplies for U.S. forces are shuttled on roads from Kuwait into southern Iraq.
“The increase in attacks shows that Iranian-backed cells enjoy greater freedom of movement than they have in the past. They have increased confidence in their ability to engage U.S. forces in stand-up firefights in broad daylight,” he said.
The Sunni-led insurgents have tended to operate in the western Anbar province, in northern areas such as Mosul and in Baghdad and its suburbs, while Shiite militias generally have battled American troops in and around Baghdad and in southern Iraq, where Shiites dominate.
The Shiite militias in the south recently have been causing the most problems for American forces.
“You can see an uptick in indirect fire activity down in the south — in other words, rockets and mortars — and there’s been an IED threat that is becoming more problematic than in the past down in the south. So we see a lot of activity,” he said.
The militants’ goal is simple, U.S. officials say. By attacking U.S. forces, which are scheduled to leave by the end of this year, the militants are trying to portray themselves as driving out the Americans.