Morning Report: December 26, 2006

Abu Naji. British and Iraqi troops raid a suspect police station. In Africa, islamist militias continue their retreat.

UK troops raid Iraqi police station. Details on this are still sketchy, but I'll post what I can find. Here's The Telegraph:
The UK is to explain why it demolished a notorious Iraqi police station in a bid to avert elements of the local council ending co-operation with British forces.

The Foreign Office said there would be discussions over yesterday's dramatic raid after the head of the city's council reportedly condemned it as illegal and provocative.

Officials said there had been no formal announcement of a halt to co-operation in the southern city despite threats of one - and suggested the move had been popular with local people.

More than 1,000 troops, accompanied by Iraqis, swooped on the Jameat station in the early hours amid rumours that dozens of prisoners were about to be executed.

The operation, one of the biggest led by the UK since the 2003 invasion, was part of a drive to stamp out renegade Shiite militia elements believed to have infiltrated police operating from the compound.

There had been fears of repercussions against captives after seven high-ranking members of the Serious Crime Unit were arrested by British forces on suspicion of corruption and leading a death squad last week.

A total of 127 prisoners - some thought to have been tortured - were removed from the premises and taken to other secure locations while hundreds of seized files and computers were examined for evidence.

International Herald Tribune gives more details: 'A military action against a police station in the southern city of Basra found prisoners being held in conditions that a British military spokesman, Major Charlie Burbridge, described as "appalling." More than 100 men were crowded into a single cell, about 9 meters by 12 meters, or 30 feet by 40 feet, he said, with two open toilets, two sinks and just a few blankets spread over the concrete floor. A significant number showed signs of torture. Some had crushed hands and feet, Burbridge said, while others had cigarette and electrical burns and a significant number had gunshot wounds to their legs and knees. Hundreds of British and Iraqi soldiers assaulted the police station on Monday, killing seven gunmen, rescuing 127 prisoners from what the British said was almost certain execution and ultimately reducing the facility to rubble.' More info as it becomes available. (Telegraph, IHT)

Ethiopian troops on the move, ICU thugs on the run. More good news for the good guys. Jerusalem Post: 'Islamic fighters retreated from the main front line in Somalia early Tuesday after a week of artillery and mortar duels and attacks by government and Ethiopian troops, witnesses said. Troops loyal to the Council of Islamic Courts withdrew more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southeast from Daynuney, a town just south of Baidoa, the government headquarters. The retreat along the western front follows the bombing by Ethiopian jets of the country's two main international airports. The Islamic forces also abandoned their main stronghold in Bur Haqaba and were forming convoys headed toward the capital Mogadishu, residents in villages along the road told The Associated Press by telephone.' And:
Islamic fighters were in a tactical retreat Tuesday, a senior Islamic leader said, as government and Ethiopian troops advanced on three fronts in a decisive turn around in the battle for control of Somalia.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, leader of the Council of Islamic Courts' executive body, told reporters in Mogadishu that his movement would not engage in any peace process as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

"We have asked our troops to withdraw from some areas," he said. "The war is entering a new phase. We will fight Ethiopia for a long, long time and we expect the war to go everyplace."

Ahmed declined to explain is comments in greater detail, but some Islamic leaders have threatened a guerrilla war to include suicide bombings in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Islamic troops withdrew more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the southeast from Daynuney, a town just south of Baidoa, the government headquarters. The retreat along the western front follows the bombing by Ethiopian jets of the country's two main international airports.

Advancing government and Ethiopian troops captured Bur Haqaba, one of the Islamists' main bases after it was abandoned early Tuesday.

"We woke up from our sleep this morning and the town was empty of troops, not a single Islamic fighter," Ibrahim Mohamed Aden, a resident of Bur Haqaba said.

Islamic fighters were also reportedly retreating on two other fronts. ...

Full article at the link. Yedioth: 'Ethiopian troops are advancing on the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and could seize it within 24-48 hours, Somalia's envoy to Ethiopia said on Tuesday. "Ethiopian forces are on their way to Mogadishu. They are about 70 km (40 miles) away and it is possible they could capture it in the next 24 to 48 hours," Abdikarin Farah told reporters in the Ethiopian capital.' The analysis at The Fourth Rail concludes: 'The Islamic Courts appears to be surprised by the quick advance and ferocity of attacks by the Ethiopian and TFG forces, as the hasty withdrawal from important towns, and abandoned critical weapons systems. To prevent a successful insurgency, the Ethiopian and TFG forces must press the attack, remove as many senior and mid-level ICU leaders as possible from the battlefield, seize as much territory as possible, and quickly restore order to the areas wrested from ICU. Dr. Abdiweli Ali, an adviser to the Transitional Federal Government, indicated to us that this is in the works.' Go get 'em. (various)

Shock unplugged. Boston Herald (h/t Malkin): 'Hachette Filipachi Media last week may have pulled the plug on its controversial photo magazine Shock after just eight issues. But a former Green Beret who now uses Massachusetts as his base is vowing to keep up the fight against the French media giant who he says illegally published one of his Iraq War photos without his permission.
“Even with Shock out of circulation, the battle with HFM has only just begun,’’ said Michael Yon, in an exclusive e-mail interview with the Herald as he prepared to go back to Iraq for more war reporting for his popular Web blog(www.michaelyon.blogspot.com).' Michael Yon's current site is here. Here's Michael Yon on Shock Magazine. (various)

Commentary. I don't have any comments on the situation in Basra, except that if we're getting closer to the rule of justice and law and away from vigilanteism, then that's a good thing. Here's Amir Taheri, from a couple of days ago, on southern Iraq:
One does not need to look hard to spot a few members of the Mahdi Army, the militia supposed to be led by Muqtada Al-Sadr, a junior mullah now in cahoots with Iran. However, although the Sadr family of theologians enjoys a reputation built over more than four centuries it is clear that young Muqtada and his associates do not run the show in Basra.

The strongest Shiite group in the city is a loose coalition known as the Fadhilah (Virtue) Party that, while developing the usual themes of Shiism, is Arab nationalist and anti-Iranian. The second most influential Shiite party in the city is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), another loose coalition led by Abdul-Aziz Hakim, a junior mullah, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. While SCIRI was close to Iran for almost a quarter of a century it has taken care to emphasize its independence since the fall of Saddam in 2003.

Iran's influence in the form of Mafia-like networks of military and business interests may look pervasive. But this does not hide the fact that most Iraqis Shiites do not like Iran and are suspicious of its allegedly hegemonic ambitions. If they still maintain an appearance of close fraternal ties with Iran, it is to have an insurance policy against the day the Americans and their allies run away. Iran's money, important in the early post-Saddam days, is no longer needed. Most Iraqi Shiite groups have developed their own networks of making money through semi-legal, and at times openly illegal, business activities that include exports of refined petroleum products to Iran.

The lesson here is that: 'To tribal sheikhs who have re-emerged as key players in southern Iraq's checkered politics, the success or failure of Basra's return to life largely depends on whether or not the Multinational Force, which in their case means the British contingent of 7,100 soldiers, will leave before the local security forces are in a position to assume control. The sheikhs call the British "Abu-Naji" which could be roughly translated into "The Father of salvation". It is no longer in purely military terms that the British presence is still needed. Early last month a British contingent, backed by Danish Special Forces, organized a spectacular raid on a cluster of terrorist hideouts along the river in Basra, killing and capturing a number of insurgents and seizing arms caches. Such operations, however, are rare, as the "Abu Naji" has been preparing to hand over the province's security to the Iraqis and let Iraqi units do whatever fighting may still be required.' From the recent news, it doesn't look like the British are planning on leaving any time soon.