U.S. forces intensify attacks on Iraqi militias
Congress backs aims of war, while
it postures as opposing escalation
Getty Images/Chris Hondros
U.S. Army troops from 1st Cavalry Division and Iraqi government soldiers pursue member of Mahdi militia they have shot in Gazaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad on February 8.
BY SAM MANUEL
WASHINGTON, February 20U.S. and Iraqi government troops reportedly bombarded the office of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who heads a militia opposed to the establishment of a pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad. The attack was part of stepped-up operations across the country, as U.S. troops increasingly clash with armed groups loyal to competing factions of the Iraqi capitalist class vying for a bigger share of power.
According to the Pentagon, about 1,000 soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division will be deployed ahead of schedule as part of the White House plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500.
Meanwhile the charade of "opposition" to the escalation of the war, which U.S. president George Bush announced January 10, goes on in Congress. On February 16, the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution criticizing the deployment of more troops and expressing support for the U.S. forces, it says, "are serving
honorably in Iraq." The next day, Republicans in the Senate blocked for the second time discussion on a similar nonbinding resolution.
At the same time, the Army is asking for a larger share of the $623 billion war budget request for 2008 to carry out Washington's multi-theater "war on terrorism." The Army's $130 billion request is 16 percent larger than its share of this year's budget proposal. The Army also seeks $83 billion in supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military budget has more than doubled from $308 billion in 2001.
The Kuwait News Agency said 14 military vehicles surrounded Sadr's office in the al-Shula area west of Baghdad today and that soldiers confiscated documents. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has been a special target of the U.S. escalation. Sadr's aides have denied rumors that he has fled to Iran in fear for his safety.
Washington has accused Iran of supplying Shiite militias with lethal weapons. Some 100 Austrian-made 50-caliber sniper rifles seized in raids across Baghdad have been traced to a purchase for the Iranian National Police, according a February 14 report by Strategic Forecasting, a private U.S. intelligence outfit (see also front-page article on Iran).
During the predawn attack by a Sunni-led militia on a U.S. outpost in the town of Tarmiya, two U.S. soldiers were killed and 17 wounded. The town, north of Baghdad, has been hotly contested by U.S. troops and Sunni militias. In addition, Sunni militias carried out attacks the same day in Kirkuk, Ramadi, Tikrit, and Fallujahall Sunni strongholds.
These attacks are part of growing signs that Sunni-led militias are continuing offensive operations while Shiite militias are laying low and moving many of their leaders to the south.
In Washington, following the vote on the nonbinding resolution on Iraq, Rep. John Murtha asserted that the "real vote" against the troop escalation would come in a proposal he will make in the defense appropriations subcommittee, which he chairs. His measure would require military units to have one year off before redeployment to Iraq, prohibit extension of tours beyond 12 months, and require units to train with all their equipment before being deployed. It contains no proposal to cut or reduce troop levels or spending for the war.
This move by the Democrats has drawn sharp reaction from the liberal and conservative media. A February 17 New York Times editorial welcomed the House vote on the nonbinding resolution, but said Murtha's proposals, which are backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are "clever maneuvers" that "won't help contain the war." The Times advised instead linking further support for the war to Iraqi government progress in disarming militias, adopting a formula to share oil revenues, and ending employment discrimination against Sunnis.
The conservative Investor's Business Daily described the House vote as doing the bidding of terrorists. "We'd have to go back to Benedict Arnold to find Americans as eager as Murtha & Co. to see an American defeat on the battlefield," the daily said in an editorial in its February 20 issue.
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