Iraq: Obama won’t speed pullout; clashes in Baghdad

President Barack Obama says he won’t consider speeding up the troop pullout from Iraq despite supposed improvements in security. “I think the plan that we put forward in Iraq is the right one,” he told CBS TV’s “Face the Nation,” calling for “a very gradual withdrawal through the national elections in Iraq.”

“I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction. But Iraq is not yet completed. We still have a lot of work to do,” the president said. Separately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told “Fox News Sunday” that he hasn’t seen “anything at this point that would lead me to think that there will be a need to change the timeline.”

Iraqi security forces swept through an area of Baghdad on March 28, detaining several people, after Sunni militiamen angry at their leader’s arrest clashed with police and troops in a battle that killed three people, two of them civilians. The clashes took place in the central Baghdad district of al-Fadhil after the arrest of Adil al-Mashhadani and one of his men.

Maj.-Gen. David Perkins, spokesman for US forces in Iraq, told journalists that Mashhadani was suspected of links to bomb-making cells, kidnappings, extortion and the al-Qaeda network. Some of the crimes were allegedly committed while he led a US-backed patrol unit, part of the “Awakening Councils” movement. (Arab Times, Kuwait, March 29; Reuters, March 30)

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  1. 34 killed in Baghdad bomb attacks
    At least 34 people have been killed and 130 injured in a series of car bomb attacks in Baghdad. Six bombs went off in less than 90 minutes. The targets included a police patrol and two markets in the Shi’ite district of the city. It is not clear whether there is any kind of connection between the blasts. (Radio Netherlands, April 6)

  2. Iraq: Awakening Councils targeted
    From UPI, April 11:

    Nine people were killed and 31 injured Saturday in Iraq when a suicide bomber set off an explosive at an Awakening Council headquarters, officials said.

    Iraq’s interior ministry said the bomber targeted a facility in the town of al-Iskandariya, about 24 miles south of Baghdad, while Awakening Council members were there to collect their salaries, CNN reported.

    The government statement said that among those killed and wounded were Iraqi soldiers and members of the Awakening Councils.

    The councils are primarily a Sunni movement of former anti-U.S. military insurgents or sympathizers who were turned against al-Qaida. They have been credited with playing a key role in suppressing acts of terror in Iraq, the U.S. broadcaster said.

    Nonetheless, the New York Times reports:

    Despite a recent spate of attacks, the United States will leave Iraq on schedule, the top American commander in Iraq said on Sunday.

    Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said that he would continue to monitor the situation on the ground, but that overall violence in Iraq remained at its lowest levels since just after the United States began the war in March 2003.

    “If we believe that we’ll need troops to maintain a presence in some of the cities, we’ll recommend that,” he said. “But ultimately it will be the decision of Prime Minister Maliki.”

    When asked by John King, the host of the show, what the chances are — on a scale of 1 to 10 — that the United States would leave Iraq on schedule by the end of 2011, General Odierno said, “I believe it’s a 10.”