From the New York Times, March 16:
The U.S. military has sent about 800 troops from Kuwait to Iraq for extra security to coincide with an expected surge of pilgrims to Muslim shrines in coming days, officials said in Baghdad on Wednesday.
In 2004 and 2005, violence was sometimes directed at Shiite pilgrims during religious holidays. The extra forces were drawn from a brigade of about 3,500 to 4,000 troops stationed in Kuwait for just such a need if conditions deteriorated.
A battalion force from the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade, “part of the U.S. Central Command’s ‘call forward force’ in Kuwait, has deployed to the Baghdad area,” the official statement said. “This is part of a broader plan that includes repositioning Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces in the run-up to Arbaeen and over the vulnerable period of the formation of the new Iraqi government.”
The Muslim holy day of Arbaeen falls on March 20. It commemorates the 40th day after Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, a key moment in the history of Shiite Islam, and features travel to shrines at Karbala and Najaf.
The discussions on troop numbers come at a time of continuing sectarian violence in Iraq that senior U.S. military officials now say poses a greater security threat than terrorists or the insurgency.
Iraqis say U.S. attack killed 11
Iraqi officials said U.S. soldiers killed 11 civilians on Wednesday in a raid on a Sunni village, though U.S. officials put the death toll at 4, The New York Times reported from Baghdad.
U.S. officials confirmed that soldiers unleashed heavy firepower against a farmhouse near Balad where they believed an insurgent was hiding, but asserted that they were fired on first.
In Baghdad, several more badly beaten bodies were found in the streets, adding to the dozens discovered earlier this week. In Baquba two bystanders were killed by a bicycle bomber.
From AFP via Qatar’s Gulf Times, March 16:
BAGHDAD: A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed two Iraqis and wounded five others yesterday in the volatile town of Baquba, northwest of Baghdad, said police. The motorcycle blew up in a small alley in the Amin neighborhood of downtown Baquba but does not appear to have had any specific target. The alley, however, leads to a busy street filled with Iraqi police. Police speculated that the explosion was premature and that the biker was targeting the main road.
The attack came shortly after another bomb killed a policemen in this restive mixed city of Sunnis and Shias that is often the site of sectarian-linked killings. Police in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, also reported the arrest of an Iraqi member of Al Qaeda on charges of being involved in operations targeting Shias in the area.
Northwest of the city, the Iraqi Army arrested 20 suspected insurgents in a raid. To the northeast, near the city of Balad, a US military operation against suspected Al Qaeda members resulted in the death of four Iraqis and the detention of a suspected Al Qaeda supporter.
US forces raided a house 80km north of Baghdad, near the town of Balad, searching for a suspected Al Qaeda “facilitator.”
“There was one enemy killed. Two women and one child were also killed in the firefight,” he said, adding that the building itself and a vehicle were destroyed. The suspect will be questioned about his activities in support of Al Qaeda, which has a major presence in the area north of Baghdad, especially around Samarra where a major Shia shrine was destroyed last month.
In Baghdad, two Shia pilgrims were shot dead, said police.
Gunmen on the road to the airport opened fire on the pilgrims and killed them as they were walking to Karbala, for the annual commemoration of the 40th day after the martyrdom in 680 of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
Tens of thousands of Shia pilgrims are currently walking the roads of the country for the event. On Tuesday, another pilgrim was killed and eight wounded when a roadside bomb detonated near a group just northeast of the capital.
Earlier yesterday, a car bomb killed one civilian and wounded two others in the mixed neighbourhood of Talibiya, northeast of Baghdad. Bombs went off in two different neighbuorhoods in Baghdad in the morning targeting police patrols but instead wounded six civilians. In Basra, a British armoured vehicle was slightly damaged in an attack and its commander lightly wounded, according to the British military authorities.