New York Times: Nearly three-quarters of the attacks that kill or wound American soldiers in Baghdad are carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite groups, the United States military said Wednesday.
The New York Times
By STEPHEN FARRELL and ALISSA J. RUBIN
Published: April 24, 2008
BAGHDAD — Nearly three-quarters of the attacks that kill or wound American soldiers in Baghdad are carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite groups, the United States military said Wednesday.
Senior officers in the American division that secures the capital said that 73 percent of fatal and other harmful attacks on American troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups.”
The American military uses that term to describe groups trained by Iran that fight alongside the Mahdi Army but do not obey the orders of the militia’s figurehead, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, to observe a cease-fire. But Col. Allen Batschelet, the Baghdad division’s chief of staff, conceded that there was overlap between the groups.
“These two groups are so amorphous; they go back and forth between one another,” the colonel said at a briefing in Baghdad.
“We see evidence of a guy who might be working very hard inside Jaish al-Mahdi to present himself as a mainstream, kind of compliant person,” he said, using the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army, “yet we have other indicators that will show him kind of working the night job doing special group, criminal kind of stuff.”
His staff said that of 114 rocket and mortar attacks that had hit the Green Zone in the past month, 82 percent were fired from Sadr City, Mr. Sadr’s stronghold in east Baghdad.
Despite the attention paid to the Green Zone, though, far more missiles hit other areas during that period, his staff said, including 292 missiles that struck other American and coalition bases in the capital and 291 that hit Iraqis.
Also speaking in Baghdad on Wednesday Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the new day-to-day commander of military forces in Iraq, attributed much of the recent violence in Sadr City to “irresponsible activity by special groups,” not the Mahdi Army itself.
But he said the Sunni extremist group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia “remains our highest security threat, because of their potential for highly damaging attacks.” American intelligence says the group is homegrown but foreign-led.
General Austin said the security situation in Iraq remained “fragile,” both because the military believed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was seeking to re-establish its car bombing and suicide bomb networks, and because on the other side of the sectarian divide, a freeze by Mr. Sadr’s Shiite militia was “tenuous.”
“We certainly hope that Sadr will choose the road of peace and responsibility,” he added.
Contractor’s Body Identified
BUFFALO (AP) — A body recovered in Iraq was identified Wednesday as that of Jonathon Cote, an Army veteran who was working as a contractor when he was kidnapped with four others more than a year ago.
“Mr. Cote’s remains are in the United States and will be returned to his family,” said a statement in Washington by Richard Kolko, an F.B.I. agent.
Mr. Cote, of the Buffalo suburb of Getzville, was working for Crescent Security Group when he was kidnapped on Nov. 16, 2006, with three other Americans and an Austrian. Their case received attention in March when the severed fingers of five of the men were sent to the American military in Iraq.