Crossfire War – Rapid Fire News=Tehran – Ramallah – Baghdad Watch – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – El Arish – Damascus – Beirut – Gaza – Ramallah – Baghdad/London – Washington – Jerusalem – Cairo – Amman – Paris – Rome; Mass Desertions Continue from Iraq Army as PM al-Maliki Offers Amnesty – U. S. Officials in Baghdad to Make Progress Report in Washington Next Week – Former Al-Aqsa Commander Explodes Myth of Palestinian State Any Time Soon
Night Watch: BAGHDAD – As fighitng continues in some areas of Sadr City, the main base of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, mass desertions continue to undermine Iraq’s new army. Swissinfo/Reuters quoted Iraq Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Mohammad al-Askari announcing Friday that during the six days of fighting in Basra last week nearly 1,000 soldiers deserted Iraq’s army. This confirms intelligence reports by U.S. military officials that the Mahdi Army had heavily infilitrated Iraq’s army and police.
The desertions are probably the reason behind Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s statement today he is offering amnesty to any fighter who lays down his weapon and there is also a suspension of operations againt any Shia militia group. As recently as yesterday, Thursday, the Prime Minister claimed he would crackdown severely on any group still resisting but in light of these desertions there is no certainty any Iraq army or police unit would follow his order.
For the U.S. these latest developments could not come at a worse time since U. S. officials in Iraq are due in Washington next week to make a progress report in front of the Congress. However, the military officials in the Pentagon have already stated the latest fighting will not delay any planned troop withdrawal. Washington may still be able to find enough Iraqi army units to celebrate the end of the occupation though it could be a celebration under fire. [SWISSINFO]
Sadr City – The link is from France24/AFP on the ongoing fighting in Sadr City that has kept shops closed and overwhelmed hospitals. Much of the 2 million population city is off limits as U. S. forces are directly engaged in combat with Shia groups. The U.S. units are still fighting alongside Iraq’s army but Debka.com reports, in its news-ticker, mass desertions from the Iraq Army continue. In the meantime Iraq’s security is bracing for the mass demonstrations in Najaf on April 9 the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the beginning of the occupation. [FRANCE24]