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Vol. 72/No. 4      January 28, 2008

U.S. warplanes bomb Baghdad
outskirts in new military push
(front page)
WASHINGTON—On January 10, U.S. warplanes dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on more than 40 targets on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. The massive air strike was part of the opening of “Operation Phantom Phoenix,” a countrywide, U.S.-led drive against al-Qaeda forces.

The latest military push is part of the offensive that began a year ago when President George Bush announced he would send in an additional 30,000 troops—dubbed the “surge” by the capitalist media.

In a measure of Washington’s success in its military offensive, the latter half of 2007 marked the lowest monthly casualty rates for the U.S. military in Iraq since the first year of the imperialist war, 2003. U.S. casualties declined steadily last year from a high of 126 in May to 23 in December. Last year also marked the largest number of U.S. troops killed in any single year of the war—899.

Gen. Walter Gaskin—the top U.S. commander in Anbar province, a former stronghold of al-Qaeda—says attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops there have dropped so low that the province will be turned over to the Iraqi army in March. Half of Iraq’s 18 provinces have now been turned over to the Iraqi military.

At a year-end briefing at the U.S. embassy, Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, said violent attacks, including high-profile assaults, car bombs, and suicide bombs, had declined roughly 60 percent since June.  
‘Sunni Awakening’
Petraeus cited the shift by Sunni sheiks against al-Qaeda, starting in Anbar and spreading to other majority-Sunni provinces, as a turning point. Wealthy Sunnis in and outside of Iraq have been the financial and organizational backbone of Sunni militias fighting U.S. and Iraqi government troops. They were the base of support for the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Local Sunni businessmen and sheiks, however, grew weary of al-Qaeda's shakedowns for financial support and killings of Sunnis it viewed as traitors. Most of the victims of al-Qaeda bombings have been working people, both Sunni and Shiite. Sunni tribal leaders have helped the U.S. military recruit a force of 70,000—many of whom were recently fighting the U.S. military—to fight al-Qaeda. This force has been dubbed the “Sunni Awakening.”

Gaskin said the turnover of Anbar to Iraqi security forces does not mean the 35,000 U.S. marine and army troops in the province, headquartered in Fallujah, will leave.

In 2004 it took a massive ground assault by U.S. Marines to oust a bloc of Baathists and al-Qaeda from Fallujah. Today, the U.S. military says Phantom Phoenix is aimed at driving al-Qaeda from Diyala and Nineva provinces, where the Islamist group's operations are now centered, north of Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda has responded by killing Sunnis who aid the U.S. military. Two suicide bombers killed a local leader of the Sunni Awakening in Azamiyah, a district in northern Baghdad that had been a safe haven for al-Qaeda. The bombing, which also killed 12 others, came a day after a videotape appeared on the Internet of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden, who denounced those who joined the Sunni Awakening as traitors.

Security in Iraq has also improved due to a cease-fire by the Shiite militia headed by Muqtada al-Sadr.  
Iraqi civilian deaths
The monthly rate of Iraqi civilian deaths also declined last year, from a high of 2,155 in May to 691 in December, according to an Associated Press report.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its estimate January 9 that 151,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first three years of the war. It is based on a survey of 10,000 Iraqi households, five times as many as in a disputed 2006 estimate by Johns Hopkins University that said 600,000 Iraqis were killed over the same period. The WHO estimate still far exceeds the widely cited estimate of 80,000 to 87,000 by the group Iraq Body Count.

Another indication of the improvement in security conditions in Baghdad is the return of thousands of Iraqis who fled to neighboring countries. Many have returned because of tightening visa restrictions in their host countries. But many others cite improved security and economic opportunities in Iraq.

Saad al-Azawi and his family were among 3,000 Iraqis who returned to Baghdad between August and October, AP reported. Al-Azawi has called family and friends still in Syria to tell them "it’s safe to come home."

Baghdad taxi driver Abu Ahmed told the Washington Post that he now takes passengers to any neighborhood in the city and any region except Diyala.

At the year-end briefing, Petraeus cautioned that the improved security situation is "tenuous" and "fragile" without political and economic progress.

Significant progress was made in that regard when the Iraqi parliament passed a law January 12 that could reinstate in civil service and military jobs thousands of Sunnis who had been members of Hussein's Baath Party. Senior party members will remain barred from public office but will be given pensions.

In response the main Sunni political bloc said January 14 it would end a nearly six-month boycott of the Shiite-led government of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and return to their cabinet posts.

Still, no progress has been made on the bigger issue of dividing up oil revenues. The Iraqi parliament adjourned at the end of the year without coming to any agreement.

The Kurdish government in northern Iraq, which has broad autonomy, continues to defy the central government by signing oil contracts with foreign companies and pressing for control of Kirkuk, which as some of the country's largest oil reserves. Baghdad, Washington, and the Turkish government have also been unsuccessful in dislodging guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from their bases in northern Iraq. The PKK, a Maoist group, has fought a decades-long war for Kurdish sovereignty in southern Turkey.  
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