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Baghdad Awaits New Security Plan

Officials say they’ve learnt from mistakes made in previous military operations.
By Zaineb Naji
The Iraqi authorities are set to launch a new security crackdown in the country’s strife-torn capital, which will involve the deployment of tens of thousands of Iraqi and American troops in a joint effort to bring stability to the city.

Politicians across the political divide have broadly welcomed the move, which appears to be a big improvement on previous attempts to pacify Baghdad both in terms of resources and coordination.

However, some Sunni residents of the city fear that they may be targeted in the operation, which will see security forces deploying in Shia and Sunni neighbourhoods across the capital.

According to official figures, 6,000 people have fallen victim to violence in Baghdad in the past two months alone; and 100,000 families have been displaced since the bombing of the Holy Shrine in Samarra in February 2006, an incident that triggered a surge in ethnic violence.

It is not clear when the plan, announced by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the first week of January, will come into force, but some claim the opening shots of the campaign have already been fired with joint Iraqi and American military operations against armed Sunni groups and former members of the Ba’ath party in early- and mid-January in the notorious Haifa Street area of central Baghdad.

Under the plan, Baghdad will be divided into ten districts, each under the authority of an Iraqi commander, given the right to take action without the need to consult his superiors. At the same time, the government will promote the security plan inside and outside parliament in order to counter its critics.

A major obstacle to improving security in Iraq has been the unreliability of the security forces, which have often turned out to be closely affiliated with the militias and other armed groups they’re supposed to be combating.

Preparations for the new security plan thus included recruitment and training of new troops who over the past two months have been carefully selected and checked for connections that might compromise their loyalty to the state.

“Iraqi troops that will conduct the operations are new troops, trained to be loyal to the state,” said Abdul-Khaliq Zangane, member of the Iraqi parliament for the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan.

About 30,000 Iraqi troops are to be deployed in the capital, including three brigades from the northern Kurdish provinces and one from the south. In addition to that, 20,000 US troops will back up Iraqi troops in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar.

The new plan follows a number of similar security crackdowns that have been criticised by Sunni members of parliament as being “sectarian and biased” and which, they say, led to an escalation in the number of Sunni and Shia civilian casualties, expulsions and kidnapping.

Maliki’s foreign affairs advisor, Mariam al-Rayis, says the new plan is likely to succeed because, firstly, it has the backing of the Americans and Iraqis and, secondly, the ministry of interior and defence are working together. Previous plans are deemed to have failed because such support and cooperation was lacking.

Another reason for optimism is that troops will deploy in neighbourhoods to keep rival factions apart - in the past security forces would move in and then leave after dealing with incidents - and will have the backing of Iraqi intelligence.

While senior officials are doing their best to promote the plan, some parliamentary deputies are more cautious about what Iraqi can expect.

Lawmaker Abbas al-Bayyati, of the Shia Unified Iraqi Alliance, believes the move will deliver results by next summer, while Shadha al-Abusi, from the Sunni National Accord Front, says that it has to show its effective first before any decision can be made about its duration.

In general, though, members of parliament are broadly supportive of the security initiative.

“We support this plan and will work for its success if it’s going to put an end to the chaos, insecurity, expulsions and killings,” said Zangane.

“We support it if it is…different from previous plans,” said Abusi. “The government should act neutrally and impose law and order on all [citizens] and in every volatile neighborhood.” There is a lot at stake, she said, and if this plan fails, the government should resign.

Ordinary Sunnis in Baghdad, however, are divided over the plan, with some relieved that their neighbourhoods may at long last become secure, while others are suspicious of the Shia-dominated government’s intentions.

Zais Awad, 34, an engineer from the Sunni neighbourhood of Mansur, welcomes the new plan and hopes that the government will “work hard on security in Baghdad and make the city is as safe as it was before the American occupation”.

However, Omar Abdul-Aziz, a 24-year-old Sunni student from the Adhamiya district, is afraid that it represents “a new sectarian plan to eliminate Sunnis” as the parties in control are Shia, Kurds and Americans.

Zainab Naji is an IWPR contributor in Baghdad.

This article has been produced with support from the International Republican Institute (IRI).

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