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NSN Iraq Daily Update 4/16/08

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VIOLENCE RAGING IN IRAQ

Bombers kill at least 54 across Iraq.
Bombers struck four cities across Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 54 people and providing a stark reminder that American and Iraqi forces are still fighting a war on two fronts. While the militaries battle Shi'a militias in the south and in Baghdad, the two deadliest attacks on Tuesday occurred in cities to the north and west that American forces say they had largely taken back from Sunni insurgents. At least 40 people died in the first attack, a suicide car bombing in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province west of Baghdad, a suicide bomber struck a restaurant, killing 13 people. Bombers also struck Mosul, in the far north, where 12 civilians were wounded, and Baghdad, where one person was killed and eight were wounded. [NY Times, 4/16/08]

Fighting between U.S. and Shi'a militias continues in Baghdad and Basra, as Marines are killed in Anbar province. An unmanned U.S. drone fired two Hellfire missiles at militants attacking Iraqi soldiers in a Shi'a militia stronghold in the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, killing four of the gunmen. In Baghdad, clashes between U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen in the Sadr City district killed two men and injured 18 other people, police said Wednesday. The U.S. military said two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb in western Anbar province. The statement said the blast occurred on Sunday while their vehicle was under attack by enemy fighters. [AP, 4/16/08]

IRAQI UNIT DESERTS, US COMMANDER: "WE DON'T SEE ANY PROGRESS BEING MADE AT ALL"

A company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions on Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying American soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shi'a militias.
The retreat left a crucial stretch of road on the front lines undefended for hours and led to a tense series of exchanges between American soldiers and about 50 Iraqi troops who were fleeing. Senior American and Iraqi commanders mounted an urgent effort to regain the lost ground. The episode was a blow to the American effort to push the Iraqis into the lead in the struggle to wrest control of parts of Sadr City from the Mahdi Army militia and what Americans and Iraqis say are Iranian-backed groups. Tuesday's desertions in Sadr City, although involving a particularly hesitant Iraqi unit, left many of the Americans soldiers wondering about the tenacity of their Iraqi allies. "It bugs the hell out of me," said Sgt. George Lewis. "We don't see any progress being made at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there helping these guys out we are making very little progress." [NY Times, 4/16/08]

TENSIONS CONTINUE ALONG IRAQ-TURKEY BORDER

Turkey: Warplanes hit Kurdish rebels in Iraq.
Turkish warplanes hit an area in northern Iraq where a group of Kurdish rebels was trying to infiltrate Turkey the military said Wednesday. The military said the rebel group was "rendered ineffective." But in Wednesday's statement, it was unclear if there were any casualties. [AP, 4/16/08]

STATE DEPT. MAY NEED TO FORCE OFFICERS TO SERVE IN IRAQ

The State Department is warning U.S. diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and says it will soon start identifying prime candidates for jobs at the Baghdad embassy and outlying provinces.
A similar call-up notice last year caused an uproar among foreign service officers, some of whom objected to compulsory work in a war zone, although in the end the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the jobs. Now, the State Department anticipates another staffing crisis. As a result, an unclassified April 8 cable says, "the prime candidate exercise will be repeated" next year, meaning the State Department will begin identifying U.S. diplomats qualified to serve in Iraq and who could be forced to work there if they don't volunteer. The prime candidate list will be comprised of diplomats who have special abilities that are needed in Iraq, such as Arabic language skills, deep Mideast knowledge or training in specific areas of reconstruction. The State Department is hoping it can fill all of next year's Iraq vacancies with volunteers as it did in 2008. "We hope to accomplish the same in 2009," the cable says. "A willing, qualified volunteer is always preferable to an employee sent involuntarily." [AP, 5/16/08]