New commander's Baghdad strategy: 'preserve gains'
Incoming US Gen. Jeffery Hammond plans to add US-Iraqi command outposts.
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Hammond's 4th Infantry Division took over command of Multinational Division Baghdad from the 1st Cavalry Division in December. When Hammond was last in Baghdad, US soldiers were locked in fierce battles with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. He called Mr. Sadr's decision to freeze the activities of his militia since August "honorable."Skip to next paragraph
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The general voiced concern that the mostly Sunni Arab neighborhood guards on the US military's payroll, which include many former insurgents, may be infiltrated by Al Qaeda, which is employing increasingly sophisticated attacks in targeting these groups.
For instance, he said, a suicide bomber detonated his payload inside a guards' station and then, as the casualties were being evacuated, a car bomb went off in their path. The attack in the northern district of Adhamiyah earlier this month claimed the life of a commander of these guards, which are called Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) by the Army.
The CLCs, situated throughout Iraq, now number about 80,000. Hammond estimated that about 20 percent of the Iraqis involved in these groups in Baghdad will ultimately join official Iraqi security forces. He says he's interested in refocusing much of their efforts here on public-works projects.
As the countdown begins of the expected return to presurge US troop levels, one added strain that Hammond is contending with is the need to pull both US and Iraqi forces from Baghdad to deal with flaring violence in other parts of the country, such as in Mosul.
Iraq's third-largest city and its northern capital was the scene of a devastating bombing last week that killed at least 60 people and wounded 200. The provincial police chief was killed in a suicide bombing a day after this attack as he surveyed the scene.
On Monday, five US soldiers were killed when their Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb while they were on patrol in a volatile section of Mosul. The attack also involved gunfire from a nearby mosque, said the US military. The soldiers were all from a battalion that belonged to one of the brigades under Hammond's command. They had been sent recently to Mosul from Baghdad as reinforcement, he said.
Also Tuesday in Mosul, a car bomber targeted a US patrol, killing at least one Iraqi and wounding 15, according to the Associated Press.
Indeed, US commanders say the north remains their biggest challenge for now. They have implemented "open-ended offensive operations," such as one called "Phantom Phoenix" to eradicate Al Qaeda and other extremists.