- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BAGHDAD — Iraq Shi’ite gunmen are continuing to attack U.S. and Iraq’s security forces in Sadr City despite the announcement of a new cease-fire agreement between the government and the militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. authorities said troops killed three gunmen in clashes late Sunday and early yesterday. Most of the fighting was along the 3-mile barrier American soldiers are building along al-Quds Street, which separates the southern Jamilla and Tharwa neighborhoods of Sadr City from northern sectors.

“It doesn’t look like a cease-fire to me,” said Maj. Kyle Ferger, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. “Just last night there were more than a dozen [incidents] along the wall.” The wall, made of 12-foot-high concrete slabs, was begun in mid-April to block Shi’ite extremists from infiltrating the two neighborhoods using cross streets along al-Quds to fire rockets at the Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government, U.S. military and diplomatic headquarters. Citizens can still travel between the southern and northern sections of Sadr City, but would have to use three main roads where Iraqi soldiers search vehicles for weapons and munitions.

Despite weeks of daily attacks by members of Mr. al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and so-called special groups — rogue militia influenced by Iran — the wall was 75 percent complete as of yesterday and will be finished by the end of the week, Maj. Ferger said.

Sadr City, located in the northeastern part of Baghdad, is the stronghold of Mr. al-Sadr, who is a political rival of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Last year he declared a cease-fire with the government, helping to bring new security to the capital, but rescinded he it in late March when the Iraqi army took on Shi’ite gunmen, including Mr. al-Sadr’s forces, in the southern port city of Basra amid spiraling lawlessness.

Fighting spread to Sadr City, from where 107 mm and 120 mm rockets were launched almost daily against the International Zone. Shi’ite gunmen in mid-April also overran a number of Iraqi army posts in the southern portion of the district. Those posts were retaken with U.S. help after some Iraqi army units deserted.

On Saturday afternoon, the government announced it reached an agreement with representatives of Mr. al-Sadr to end the fighting. Although some details are still being clarified by the government and representatives of Mr. al-Sadr, said to be living in Iran, the militia agreed to surrender its medium and heavy weapons and the government agreed to open all roads into Sadr City, which the United Nations said lacks adequate food and water.

Iraqi troops would reportedly be allowed to enter the district to search for criminals. “It [the new cease-fire] is a lie,” Iraqi army Col. Yehea Resol Abdala said yesterday in reference to militants adhering to it. “Just an hour ago they attacked my soldiers.

“We know these people. We’ve fought them before. If they don’t surrender their weapons, they must be squashed.” Ironically, in the same hour in which word Saturday was first received of the cease-fire, 11 improvised explosive devices could be heard from the colonel’s Jamilla neighborhood office.

Col. Yehea is commander of the Iraqi army’s 3rd Battalion, 42nd Brigade, 11th Division, which operates in the Jamilla area. His unit stood firm and fought off Mahdi Army and special-group gunmen when they launched concerted, coordinated attacks on government positions April 19.

Col. Yehea, similar to his troops, is a Shi’ite from Sadr City, and he said government forces must be in the city and work with the people or there will be no peace.

“The special groups don’t take their orders from al-Sadr,” he said. “They take their orders from Iran.” U.S. and Iraqi authorities suspect Iran of having trained some special-group elements. Iran also is accused of providing extremists with explosively formed penetrator bombs, which pierce armored vehicles.

Iraqi troops around Sadr City conduct joint operations with U.S. troops and also independently. Working with the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Brigade is a special 14-man U.S. Military Transition Team, which acts as a liaison and helps overcome the communications, planning and logistics problems the Iraqi army suffer from.

Col. Yehea’s battalion, for example, only has four night-vision goggles, something given to every U.S. soldier in the Sadr City area.

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