Thursday, May 1, 2008

The deadliest month since September drew to a close yesterday

The United States lost 49 Soldiers and Marines in the quagmire in Iraq during the month of April. Five were lost on the final day alone. Twenty-three fell in Baghdad, where the U.S. military has been engaged in close, and fierce, street-to-street fighting with Shi'ite militiamen, most of whom are allied with the Jaish al Mahdi, the militia that is (ostensibly) affiliated with cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has vowed resistance so long as the occupiers remain on Iraqi soil. Two Marines were killed in Anbar - signifying that the "Awakening Concils" might be getting a little sleepy. It was the first loss of life of American service personnel in Anbar since November.

Tehseen Sheikhly, a spokesman for Baghdad security plan, said that at least 925 people were killed in Sadr City firefights since the crackdowns started late March.

But as is the case in any war, civilians bear the brunt in Iraq, too.
According to data collected by Iraq's interior, health and defence ministries and made available to AFP, 966 civilians were killed in April, followed by 69 policemen and 38 soldiers.

The death toll in April is marginally lower than in March which saw 1,082 Iraqis killed.

"The death toll in April is mainly driven by fighting between (Shiite) militants and security forces," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Combined figures obtained by AFP from the three ministries showed that 1,745 civilians were wounded in the violence that ravaged the country, followed by 159 policemen and 104 soldiers.

The April toll maintains the trend of high violence that reversed, mainly since March, a gradually declining trend of violence seen from June last year and follows 721 killed in February, 541 in January, 568 in December, 606 in November, 887 in October, 917 in September and 1,856 in August.

It is obvious that either Sadr has suspended his cease fire order, or he has lost control of his militia. The U.S. military said that the militia fighters fire at American and Iraqi soldiers from rooftops, alleyways, and dwellings, and that firefights erupt as a result, and when that happens, civilians get killed in the crossfire.

Maliki held a press conference on Wednesday, and he did not disappoint in the hyperbole department. He accused the Sadrist militia fighters of using civilians as human shields, as Saddam Hussein infamously did with westerners caught in Iraq before the first gulf war. "Criminals and lawless gangs are using human shields in Sadr City ... They are following the steps of the Baathist regime," Maliki told a press conference. "They are trying to gain sympathy but they are using the lies and the values of the former regime," he said, referring to executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Maliki went on to vow that the Mahdi Army would be disbanded, along wioth Sunni militant groups, especially al Qaeda. "We will not allow scavengers in Iraq. The suffering will not be long in Sadr City. We will save our brothers," he said. He also accused the militias of in effect forcing a quarantine of fear on Sadr city. "I do not know how those people use the (Shiite religious) names we respect like Mahdi and Sadr," he said.

Maliki was referring to Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohamed Sadeq al-Sadr, murdered - and martyred - in February 1999 by the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, along with two of his sons and their driver in a machine gun ambush as they entered a traffic roundabout. At the time his father and brothers were martyred, Muqtada was a teenager with little religious training and an addiction to video games.

The next day, he was a religious leader, and now he is trying to carve a place for himself - and his father's legacy in the new Iraq. And that legacy is steeped in Iraqi nationalism and populism. He blamed both the Baathist regime and American-led sanctions for the suffering of Iraqi civilians.

The increased violence led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to admit on Tuesday that a seven-month lull in the deaths of U.S. troops has come to an end. He blamed the increased violence and loss of life on militias who bombarded the Green Zone with ordnance.

The rise in troop deaths, coinciding as it does with the withdrawal of the Surge™ troops has many officials hand-wringing over the ability of Iraqi and American forces to sustain the security gains that the supporters and apologists for the Surge™ insist were made.

And even though we called this immediately when they first started peddling the troop buildup, and we have been right at every step along the way, we do not gloat "I told you so" when what we are right about involved the demise of men and women we consider to be our brothers and sisters. Instead, we offer the fallen our most crisp salute, and the people who started this unholy clusterfuck a salute of the one-finger variety.

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