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US Troop “Negotiating” Their Way Into Sadr City

From the always diplomatic Washington Post:

Edging Their Way Into Sadr City

U.S. Officers Try Negotiating Before Buildup in Baghdad Slum

By Ann Scott Tyson
Monday, May 21, 2007; A08

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military is engaged in delicate negotiations inside Sadr City to clear the way for a gradual push in coming weeks by more American and Iraqi forces into the volatile Shiite enclave of more than 2 million people, one of the most daunting challenges of the campaign to stabilize Baghdad.

So sensitive is the problem of the sprawling slum — heavily controlled by militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, personally approves all targets for raids inside the Baghdad district, military officers said.

Lacking sufficient troops so far to move deeper into Sadr City, the military has cautiously edged into the southern part, conducting searches and patrols, handing out supplies and using offers of economic aid to try to overcome resistance. Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations forces and other U.S. and Iraqi troops have detained militia leaders in an effort to weaken their organization.

As additional U.S. forces flow into Baghdad this month and next, the plan is to step up the presence of U.S. and Iraqi troops in Sadr City, U.S. commanders said in interviews over the past three weeks. “More U.S. forces are needed in Sadr City to establish greater control, with Iraqi forces. We have to be matched,” Col. Billy Don Farris, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade and senior U.S. officer for the area.

Commanders say they intend to use political negotiations to gain peaceful entry into the district, bringing with them Iraqi forces and reconstruction projects. U.S. officials hope “to take Sadr City without a shot fired,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., the senior U.S. general overseeing Baghdad.

But negotiations have had setbacks, with key players shot or intimidated. Farris, the lead American officer in the talks, was evacuated from Iraq and is recovering after being shot in the leg May 3 in a different part of Baghdad, his spokesman said last week.

If political avenues are exhausted, the U.S. military has formulated other options, including plans for a wholesale clearing operation in Sadr City that would require a much larger force, but commanders stress that this is a last resort…

Today, the small U.S. units patrolling Sadr City do not venture far into its teeming neighborhoods. Posters bear the frowning visage of Sadr and flags symbolize his militia, the Mahdi Army, whose influence reaches into every alley.

“Sadr City is like a spider web,” said Lt. Col. Richard Kim, the U.S. battalion commander in the area.

One recent morning, a convoy pulled up to a girls school, and U.S. troops and Iraqi police officers piled out, heavily armed but with a benign mission: assessing classroom supplies.

Yet the school’s somber-faced headmistress, sitting in her office with a poster of Sadr above her on the wall, confided her fears. “We are receiving threats for taking school supplies from you,” Ataf Abas Hamid al-Bayati told U.S. troops through an interpreter. In search of refuge, she said, she had asked the United Nations to help relocate her.

Negotiations with local officials by U.S. officers, stalled off and on by assassination attempts and other threats, this month achieved incremental progress with a project to put protective barriers around a main Sadr City market. Iraqi police and contractors are now carrying out the project, which will take about three weeks to complete, said Lt. Col. David Oclander of the 82nd Airborne.

Commanders stress that the “soft” approach to Sadr City does not apply to violent militia cells, which are targeted throughout the area by U.S. Special Operations troops and other forces…

Negotiations? Isn’t this kind of approach what has caused us so much trouble in Iraq from the start?

And what will they do when Sadr and the rest of the Mahdi “leadership” return from Iran?

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, May 21st, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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