The crackdown on Baghdad violence continued as American and Iraqi soldiers moved into the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Sunday. Two guests comment on the progress of the troop surge.
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Today, for a second day, U.S. and Iraqi forces patrolled the largely Shiite district of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, targeting illegal weapons and fighters.
The patrols represent a new phase of security operations, begun about three-and-a-half weeks ago to stabilize Iraq's capital. Sunday, roughly 1,100 troops began their first major incursion into the area. There have been no reports of resistance thus far from the neighborhood's 1.5 million residents.
That contrasts with the last major American drive into a Sadr stronghold. In 2004, U.S. troops engaged in fierce battles with fighters loyal to militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Najaf.
Sadr's now a key backer of the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. And yesterday's push into the neighborhood bearing his family's name came only after negotiations between Maliki and Sadr representatives.
American officials and Sadr's political allies have said Sadr traveled to Iran recently, but won't confirm it was to escape the crackdown.
The new Baghdad security sweep, dubbed Operation Law and Order, has put thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi forces on the streets of the capital. They've conducted house-to-house searches for weapons and other material, raided insurgent strongholds, and stopped vehicles at checkpoints.
U.S. troops have also established joint security posts in many Baghdad neighborhoods, positioning them closer to the population and to the violence. The president's top military adviser spoke about the posts last month before a Senate committee.
PETER PACE, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: What's planned is for each of the nine districts in Baghdad to have an Iraqi brigade. Co-located with that Iraqi brigade, teamed up with that brigade would be a U.S. battalion.
By last week, the number-two U.S. commander in Iraq said the operation had already achieved a significant decline in execution-style killings in Baghdad.
LT. GEN. RAY ODIERNO, U.S. Army:
We will stay at this until we think the people feel safe in their neighborhoods, and it's going to take months. Whether it will be the summer or not, I don't know yet. Again, I'm cautiously optimistic how things are going forward so far.
But today's car bomb targeting a Baghdad book market and killing several dozen people was part of an apparent trend in the other direction. Such attacks in the capital have increased by roughly 30 percent since mid-February, according to a report based on Iraqi government figures, and some Iraqis have questioned the security operation's effectiveness.
HAIDER AL-JABIRI, Sadr Aide (through translator):
We are certain that no security plan is useful, and no occupier is useful, and no hegemony is useful. We are seeing car bombs exploding and taking away thousands and thousands of our beloved people's innocent souls, under a security plan controlled by the occupier.
But the new push into Sadr City may help address Sunni fears that the Maliki government would shield Shiite militants from prosecution.