These alarming reports were reserved for the London edition of Az-Zaman (largely read by the Arab audience and Iraqis residing outside the country) and kept away from the local Iraqi edition, it should be noted. In addition, this ,latest report parallels a similar story last week where the paper – also quoting US officials – warned that Mahdi Army fighters taking refuge in Iran are planning to conduct assassinations against US and Iraqi officials.
This time, the US General quoted in Az-Zaman did not mention assassination plots, but alleged that the Iranian-backed militias (who were not named by referred to as “special groups”) will conduct operations against US and Iraqi government forces and attempt to “destabilize Iraq.”These fighters, the report claimed, were among the Mahdi Army militiamen who fled Basra, Sadr City and other Iraqi provinces following the US “surge” and a “truce” agreement between Muqtada and the Iraqi government.
The Az-Zaman report said that the activity of these “special groups” will center on Baghdad, Basra and ‘Amara, all regions with heavy Sadrist presence that were recently “reclaimed” by the government and US forces. Whatever we may think of these pessimistic predictions, al-Jazeera was in fact reporting on an attack against the US Army in ‘Amara – of all places. A US Army outpost in ‘Amara was subjected to rocket fire, the news channel said, resulting in the death of a US soldier. Several other attacks and assassinations took place yesterday against Iraqi government forces across Iraq, leaving dozens of Iraqis dead and injured (including five policemen in ‘Amara.)
But these multiplying “security incidents” (especially in zones that were considered “pacified” such as Basra, Maysan, Nineveh and Anbar) were overshadowed by the continuing government campaign in Diyala. For the last weeks, and aside from official statements, little original reporting could be obtained on the protracted campaign in Diyala’s mountains, but news are beginning to leak regarding “challenges” that are hampering the advance of US and government forces.
Aside from the difficulties of combating al-Qa’ida, US and government troops are hampered by their own divisions, which reached a boiling point this week. After tensions between "Iraqi" and Peshmerga forces were barely averted last week, the office of Diyala’s governor was stormed by Iraqi security forces that killed the governor’s secretary and arrested a representative in the local council (according to al-Jazeera.) The full details of the attack are yet to be ascertained, but according to al-Jazeera, fighting occurred between different branches of the Iraqi security forces, with Iraqi police sources claiming that US choppers participated in the attack against the governor – the US Army issued a denial.
The root of the current tensions in Diyala is political, and relates to a power-struggle between a notoriously brutal local police chief (accused of “war crimes” and “warlordship” by local critics) and the local representative council, dominated by Sunnis close to the Islamic Party and the Sunni "Awakening" militias. The Diyala governor may have gambled with his life when he signed an order relieving the local police chief (affiliated with a ruling Shi’a party) of his duties – Arab media mentioned that the governor escaped an earlier assassination attempt a week after signing the order.