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Archive: January 2008
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RUMOR MILL
Latest Speculation Involves Security Insiders; Rubaie Blames Foreign Links
01/22/2008 6:24 PM ET
Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie in May 2007.
Jim Watson/AFP.
Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie in May 2007.

Rumors are swirling in Baghdad and inside the Iraqi security forces regarding a dramatic standoff that apparently threatened a high-profile Iraqi official on Friday evening in a northern Baghdad district.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security advisor to the Iraqi government was pinned down for several hours in a Shi'a religious facility when 50 to 60 gunmen surrounded a Husseiniya (Shi'a place of worship) in the northwestern district of Shu'la, a predominantly working-class Shi'a area.

The gunmen, whose identities were unknown, trapped the Iraqi national security advisor and his guards inside the Husseiniya.

Details about the ensuing standoff are still sketchy. It is known that Iraqi forces and Rubaie's guards were able, apparently after several hours, to spirit him out of a back door in the structure to safety.

Eyewitnesses in Shu'la told IraqSlogger that American planes were scrambled to the skies above the incident as the standoff unfolded.

No casualties were reported resulting after the event, but security sources suggest to Slogger that fire was exchanged during the standoff and that some of the gunmen may have been killed.

Rubaie has since said that the attack did not target him personally and blamed unnamed "foreign-linked groups" for the attack, saying they sought to disrupt the observation of the Shi'a observance of the Ashoura rituals that were due to culminate on Saturday.

The responsible party for the standoff and possible assassination attempt is unknown, but Slogger sources report that speculation is swirling. The Sadrist Current enjoys a strong base in Shu'la, leading some to speculate that the Mahdi Army militia, nominally loyal to the Sadrist leadership, may have been involved. However, Sadrist officials have denied any involvement in the events. The Mahdi Army has also been under a "freeze" order since August that would make such well-organized operations very unusual.

Security sources tell Slogger anonymously that at least 15 men with links to the Sadrist Current in Shu'la were arrested in a crackdown after the standoff, and that the captives have denied any involvement in Friday's events.

Iraqi officials are also fingering the shadowy Jund al-Sama' ("Soldiers of Heaven") organization for possible involvement in the move against al-Rubaie, as well as in the fighting last week in the southern cities of Nasiriya and Basra, but no links have yet been demonstrated.

The Ansar al-Imam al-Mahdi movement, which was confirmed to have been involved in the Nasriya and Basra fighting last week, has denied links to the so-called Soldiers of Heaven group.

Some cynical observers suggest, without offering evidence, that Iraqi officials employ the Soldiers of Heaven label as a catch-all bogeyman for unrest and nefarious dealings in the Iraqi south.

Slogger sources inside the security forces also report a rumor that the would-be attackers who massed against Rubaie and his associates on Friday were in fact members of the Iraqi security forces, but these links cannot be confirmed at this time.

The standoff occurred the same day that the Rubaie placed an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing for a federal system in Iraq.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm any of the above-reported rumors at this time.

RUMOR MILL
Slogger Sources: Unconfirmed Reports that Pro-US Fighters Involved in Thefts
01/09/2008 5:24 PM ET
Composite satellite image shows location of Binouk district in northeastern Baghdad.
Google Earth Image/IraqSlogger.com.
Composite satellite image shows location of Binouk district in northeastern Baghdad.

Locals in an eastern Baghdad district accuse members of a pro-US force of involvement in crimes against the district's residents, as unconfirmed rumors circulate on the streets linking the newly deployed force to car thefts in the area.

In the Binouk area, in northeastern Baghdad, residents tell Slogger that rumors are traveling among locals connecting what appears to be a recent rash of car thefts to the appearance on the scene of the pro-US militia known to Iraqis as the Sahwa or "Awakening" forces.

Checkpoints manned by Sahwa fighters have appeared on the borders of the Binouk area, locals tell Slogger, but an air of mistrust surrounds the relations between the largely Shi'a residents of Binouk and the Sunni Arab fighters in the ranks of the Sahwa.

Although the accusations lacking conclusive proof, locals still point the finger at the freshly arrived Sahwa fighters to explain incidents such as Sunday's carjacking, when a government vehicle was approached by armed men who ejected the driver at gunpoint and made off with the car.

Locals explain with suspicion that the incident took place near a Sahwa checkpoint in Binouk, saying that the tribal fighters made no effort to intervene.

Also troubling, locals say, is that eyewitnesses to some carjackings in the district claim to recognize the vehicles used to carry the militants to the site of the thefts as belonging to Sahwa members, and also claim that reports to the Iraqi authorities have not resulted in any intervention by the Iraqi police.

Residents tell Slogger that the residents of Binouk seem to prefer to deal with Iraqi forces or even the American troops rather than interact with the fighters of the Sahwa forces, even to report tips about possible illegal armed activity or deadly explosive devices in the neighborhood, explaining that the loyalty of the Sahwa fighters is still not trusted at the popular level in the district.

IraqSlogger cannot confirm if such mistrust is simply the result of the introduction of a new fighting force into the district, or if there is truth to the accusations of Sahwa involvement in theft in Binouk.

RUMOR MILL
As Raids Target Sadrist Fighters, Many Seek to Influence Locally Derived Intel
01/07/2008 2:04 PM ET
Composite satellite image shows relative location of Sha'b, Sadr City, and Baghdad al-Jadida in eastern Baghdad.
Google Earth Image/IraqSlogger.com.
Composite satellite image shows relative location of Sha'b, Sadr City, and Baghdad al-Jadida in eastern Baghdad.

As US and Iraqi forces continue their crackdown on a feared Iraqi militia, IraqSlogger sources in some Shi'a areas of Baghdad have noticed a new trend on the streets: Known militia members are openly repudiating their connections to the Mahdi Army.

In areas of Baghdad where the Sadrist current, nominally loyal to the young Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is known to hold sway, US and Iraqi forces have pursued an intensive crackdown on the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia associated with the Sadrist trend. The group has a strong presence on the streets of such Baghdad districts as Sha'b, Baghdad al-Jadida, and Sadr City, all known as Mahdi Army strongholds.

As the crackdown continues, Slogger sources in these three districts all report that individuals formerly known by neighborhood residents as confirmed members of the Mahdi Army are now volunteering the story that they have left the militia.

It is now common on the streets of pro-Sadr districts to hear a known Mahdi Army member explaining that he can no longer take the pressure of belonging to a targeted militia, and that he has quit the militia, seeking to live in peace, locals explain.

Residents point out that it is impossible to confirm the veracity of the would-be ex-militiamen's claims of having quit the Mahdi Army, and tell Slogger that some individuals have likely parted company with the militia in order to avoid the raids and arrests that target Mahdi Army members, while others may simply be dissimulating, as a form of counter-intelligence.

The would-be ex-militiamen often offer the story of leaving the ranks of the armed group without prompting, locals explain.

As IraqSlogger has reported earlier, US and Iraqi forces often – although not always -- appear to have access to remarkably accurate intelligence in raids targeting Mahdi Army members, at times locating wanted individuals who may hide out in the neighborhood by sleeping in a different place each night. Such information could only come from knowledgeable local sources in these tightly knit neighborhoods, locals explain.

As such, locals say that current or former Mahdi Army members would have a strong interest in making it known on the streets of their local districts that they had quit the organization, in an attempt to influence the intelligence that informs US and Iraqi raids.

In August of last year, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a "freeze" on all Mahdi Army activity for up to six months while the Sadrist leadership "restructures" the militia. The cease-fire has been largely honored, but some locally based branches of the notoriously decentralized militia have continued their armed activity, and US and Iraqi raids have continued to target Mahdi Army elements.

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