Sadr City blast reveals new dangers for U.S.
A Tuesday bomb attack at a municipal council building within a fortified section of Baghdad's Shiite enclave killed at least four Americans and six Iraqis.
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Meanwhile, US forces are still engaged in a relentless pursuit of remaining militia members in Baghdad. They are also spending millions of dollars on community projects and creating temporary jobs for thousands of poor Shiites in a move to counter Sadr's influence.Skip to next paragraph
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The creation of walled "safe neighborhoods" all over Baghdad free of insurgent influence has been a cornerstone of the surge in US troops implemented in early 2007 and credited with reducing the levels of violence.
Under a 14-point agreement between the Iraqi government and Sadr's representatives that ended the fighting in Sadr City on May 12, US troops are supposed to be restricted to the area south of Al Quds Street while the Iraqi Army was deployed in the rest of Sadr City to conduct raids and seize weapons.
US military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover says that 94 SG operatives have been arrested since the deal was signed. He says that one-third of those are cell leaders. Iraqi forces operating north of Al Quds have found 313 weapon and munitions caches since May 20, including hundreds of sophisticated roadside bombs, rockets and mortar, and artillery rounds.
The US Army's ambitious civil affairs program in the section, which it calls "AO Gold," will include spending $13.4 million for a variety of service projects, such as stand-alone power generators. It is also creating 1,200 jobs through a neighborhood guard program. The military also aims to reorganize local police, notorious for its links to the Mahdi Army.
The US hopes to create an ideal community within the newly erected walls that the rest of Sadr City would want to emulate.
"We have a finite capability … we are going to focus on one place, get it right, and move on to the next step," Col. Alan Batschelet had told reporters earlier this month.
The military has also been anxious to portray those militiamen who continue to resist US and Iraqi troop presence in Sadr City as Iranian-backed extremists.
"The extremist militias are looking for a safe haven in Sadr City. The Iranians are supporting these groups by providing weapons, funding, and training to kill Iraqi citizens," reads a slick-looking billboard depicting a sketch of a masked militiaman with a green bandana tied around his head.
The campaign has been met with mixed reactions. A man who gave his name as Abu Fatima worried that Tuesday's blast would curtail US activities in the area. "The Americans have come to serve us, to restore services, and start projects, whoever did this wants to stop that."
But in an interview a week ago, Sadr's top representative in Sadr City, Sheikh Salman al-Freiji, expressed his bitter opposition to the US presence. "We categorically reject the presence of US forces and do not want their services or handouts."
He said that since the truce began more than 500 Sadrists have been arrested by both US and Iraqi forces.