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Violence Continues in Iraq

After an update on the fighting in western Iraq, a New York Times reporter explains recent political developments in Baghdad, including a change in election rules for the constitutional referendum Oct. 15.

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  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Back on the offensive, U.S. Marines now in two simultaneous operations to oust insurgents in towns near the Syrian border– Operation River Gate and Operation Iron Fist.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    Do you see them?

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    I know these popshots are frustrating. Keep your eyes open —

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Sporadic gunfire as they enter Karabila, but the insurgents shoot and run; it's hard for the Marines to hit them.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    If you have got somebody to shoot at, it is a done deal.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    But the insurgents shoot and run; it's hard for the Marines to hit them.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    What is going on?

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    Roger, anybody know what that machine gunfire was?

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Karabila is one of a string of towns which have been under the control of insurgents for several months now. The Marines blast a building they believe contains fighters. Maybe it did, but the explosion also hits another house next door where civilians are staying. Amongst those who emerge, a family– mother, father and child. They're injured by rubble and shrapnel and have to be medically evacuated. The man moans, "What's our crime? We're innocent."

  • LT. COL. DALE ALFORD, US Marine Corps:

    This isn't an open battlefield where you've got the bad guys and the good guys lined up against each other. You've got the innocent civilians intermixed in the battle. And it is always tough.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    The Americans say the fighters and their weapons come over the border from Syria. The streets are mined. The insurgents had clearly planned for this. The Americans have driven them out before, only for the insurgents to come back a few weeks later because Iraqi forces can't establish control. Some residents have complained that the insurgents imposed strict and oppressive Islamic rule, but the local tribal leader visiting Baghdad is angry about the American assault.

  • SHEIKH USAMAH AL-KIRBOOLI, Tribal Leader:

    The US occupying forces have advanced towards the city of Karabila from its eastern part of Sadah. The forces started bombing the city randomly, killing or injuring dozens of innocent civilians, women, children and elderly people.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Down the road in Ramadi, the fighters aren't hiding and running. They're out there on the streets. At least four civilians were killed here today in clashes with US forces. Almost a year ago, the Marines swept through Ramadi and neighboring Fallujah. They said it would be the beginning of the end of the insurgency, but the Iraqi army who are meant to be in charge here are just mocked. A suicide car bomb at the entrance to the green zone in Baghdad this morning. On its web site, al-Qaida in Iraq, the group thought to control the Syrian border area, said they did it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next a further report from Baghdad. It comes from Robert Worth of the New York Times. Ray Suarez talked to him by phone earlier this evening.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Robert Worth, welcome. Well, thousands of American troops in action in western Iraq. What's the military objective?

  • ROBERT WORTH:

    The objective is to pacify the area as the referendum approaches — that's part of it — and also to strike at the network of Zarqawi, the best-known terrorist in Iraq. His network, the American military believe has been pushed westward into Anbar Province west of Baghdad. And they want to strike as hard as possible at him. This is the second operation in the past week that has been aimed at the Zarqawi network. The first one was aimed in part of the northwest near the Syrian border and the second one that was just announced today is a little closer to Baghdad focusing on Haditha and a couple of other towns along the Euphrates River.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, as you mentioned, we are in the run-up to the vote on the constitution. What's been the reaction to the change in the rules that may make it harder to defeat that constitution at the polls?

  • ROBERT WORTH:

    Yeah. Well, one important reaction was from the United Nations, which issued a statement today that it was critical of the change. It was somewhat guarded and diplomatic, but no question it was a thinly veil of criticism. The United Nations said that the change appeared to violate accepted international standards for election. Basically, the change raises a higher bar for anyone who wants to vote no on this thing. And this has really brought a lot of outrage not just from Sunni Arabs, who generally oppose the constitution, but from a wide range of independent politicians who feel that the vote change amounts to sort of fixing the referendum in advance, that it makes it virtually impossible for a no vote to succeed.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So does this change the tactic for the Sunnis? Do they move from urging a no vote to perhaps urging no vote at all?

  • ROBERT WORTH:

    You know, it's not clear right now. The vote is sort of — the rule changes are a somewhat technical issue and it has taken a little bit of time for awareness of it to spread out in Iraq. The Sunni leaders I have spoken to who know about it are definitely outraged. Some of them have talked about a boycott. Others have said they're not sure what they're going to do. But they're all very angry. Some have actually said to me that it might end up being counterproductive because it might actually energize Sunnis to vote in higher numbers against this thing. It is really hard to tell at this point but there is no question that there is a lot of anger.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    At a time when Kurdish leaders and Shiite Arab leaders are urging a yes vote for the constitution, are splits starting to show inside the new Iraqi government?

  • ROBERT WORTH:

    Well, yes, there have been some splits recently. At least there has been tension anyway between Prime Minister Jaafari and President Talabani. I think though that tension is actually just really kind of a symptom of a broader tension between the Shiite list or alliance and then the Kurdish alliance. Those two alliances got together and they formed the backbone of the new government that formed last spring. It has always been kind of a delicate, fragile coalition. And recently those tensions have showed up even more. It doesn't look likely that they are actually going to break apart. There is only two months left until the next elections. And the referendum is coming up. It would be very surprising to everybody if that — if that actually happened.

    But certainly there has been a lot of tension and the issues behind it appear to be many. Probably the most important is that the Kurds are not happy with the Shiites because they accuse the Shiites of not resettling Kurds fast enough in Kirkuk which is city that the Kurds have long wanted control over. That's the main issue but there are some other issues as well.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Robert Worth in Baghdad, thanks for joining us.

  • ROBERT WORTH:

    Thank you.

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