Morning Report: May 25, 2007

Muqty returns to Iraq from a temporary vacation in Iran, but one of his top thugs makes a permanent exit. Israel hits back in Gaza, and the squeeze on Syria is felt in Lebanon. Get ready for some interesting times.

British troops kill top Mahdi Army terrorist. The Telegraph: 'The leader of the Shia Mahdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has been killed in a shoot out with British soldiers, Iraqi police said. Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qadir, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during the battle. The Mahdi Army of radical Shia Muqtada al-Sadr is fiercely opposed to the presence of US and British troops in Iraq. However, the militia has lowered its profile since US-led forces began a security crackdown in Baghdad in February. The gunbattle began about 4pm when British forces attempted to arrest al-Waili after he left a mosque in Jumhoriyah a middle class, residential area in central Basra, police said. Al-Waili and his three companions opened fire and were killed in the subsequent gunbattle, police said. The British military could not immediately be reached for comment.' The Fourth Rail: 'Coalition forces responded to Sadr's return by killing a senior leader of the Mahdi Army in the southern city of Basra. "Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qader, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during the battle Friday afternoon," the Associated Press reported.British troops killed Qader after he resisted arrest. "He was suspected of involvement in planting roadside bombs, weapons trafficking, assassinations and planning and participating in attacks against British troops," Reuters noted. Basra has seen an increase in violence since the British announced they would be drawing down forces in the region.'

Israel renews airstrikes on Gaza. AP via Fox: 'GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli aircraft struck a succession of militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, after hitting a house in the refugee camp where Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh lives. ... Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes in recent days in retaliation for stepped-up Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israeli towns. Haniyeh stayed away from public prayers on Friday, even though Israel denied he was a target of the missile fired at the Shati refugee camp just before midnight Thursday. No one was hurt in that attack, which Israel said targeted an unspecified structure used by Hamas.' Go to the link for the obligatory AP photo of a helples Palestinian child running in terror before the brutal onslaught of the bloodthristy Jews. JPost (also from AP): 'An Israeli air strike hit a Hamas training center south of Gaza City on Friday, destroying the compound but causing no injuries, witnesses said. Palestinian security officials said three missiles struck the Hamas executive force base. The building was empty and no one was harmed in the attack.' Debka: 'Overnight, the Israeli air force struck eight Hamas and Jihad Islami targets in Gaza. Thursday, 18 missiles exploded in Israel north and south of Gaza Strip. There were no casualties although the early warning alarm system failed to work in Sderot and other places. In the morning, Israeli forces rounded up 33 Hamas officials on the West Bank, including the Palestinian education minister. In addition to the minister, Nasser e-Din Shear, the Hamas mayors of Nablus and Qalqilya, local council heads and several members of parliament were detained. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that after the kidnap of Gilead Shalit last June, Israel rounded up scores of Hamas officials on the West Bank and in Jerusalem - to no avail. Our sources add that the officials arrested this time too are not involved in the missile offensive waged by Hamas military chiefs in the Gaza.'

US aid for Lebanese army. Debka: 'US airlifts ammunition and advanced weapons to Lebanese army in response to Beirut’s plea for aid against Islamic radicals. US military sources report the first of six cargo planes arrived Friday. For five days, Lebanese tanks and artillery have been pounding Fatah al-Islam gunmen barricaded in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp without achieving a breakthrough. The fighting has escalated dangerously following the infiltration of pro-Syrian reinforcements to the camp. They are led by members of the pro-Syrian Palestinian extremist Ahmed Jibril’s group, armed by Damascus and directed by Syrian military intelligence officers, who maintain a presence in North Lebanon. The Bush administration decided to rearm the Lebanese troops with better weapons because if they fail to suppress the Islamist uprising in the northern camp, the unrest will spread. The south Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwa in the south is already getting restive, stirred up by the hundreds of extremists linked to al Qaeda who have settled in the camp. The IDF’s northern command has placed Israeli units along the Lebanese and Syrians on the alert in case of a flare-up. Washington, Jerusalem and Beirut all believe Bashar Assad is pumping up war tensions to intimidate the UN Security Council which is due to vote Tuesday, May 29, on an international tribunal for suspects in the Hariri assassination. Assad has announced he will not recognize the tribunal. UN investigator Serge Brammertz plans to issue international arrest warrants for putting some of his close family members and high intelligence officers, stalwarts of his regime, on trial for murder.' Reuters via MSNBC:
The United States and Arab allies sent military aid to Lebanon on Friday and the Lebanese army deployed extra troops to a Palestinian camp where it has been battling Islamist militants this week.

A fragile truce held between the army and the Fatah al-Islam militant group in northern Lebanon at the Nahr al-Bared camp, where the faction is based, despite sporadic overnight clashes.

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr said the government was leaving room for negotiations but the army would act if necessary. “What is required is the handing over of those terrorists and criminals,” he told reporters.

See Update, following Commentary at the bottom of this post.

More US ships to Persian Gulf. Debka: 'Nine US military ships enter Persian Gulf Wednesday, assembling off Iran’s coast in largest American naval move since 2003. [Illustration: USS Bonhomme Richard LHD 6 Group, the world’s biggest amphibious strike force.] They sailed through the Strait of Hormuz by day - according to US Navy officials for training exercises. The vessels carry around 17,000 combat and marine personnel. They include the two aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Stennis, as well as the USS Bonhomme Richard LHD 6 Group, the world’s biggest amphibious strike force. Iran was not notified of the planned arrival. DEBKAfile reports the maneuvers take place less than two weeks after Vice President Dick Cheney visited the region and informed Saudi King Abdullah and fellow Gulf rulers that President George W. Bush has determined that if Iran refuses to waive a nuclear weapon capability, the US will attack its nuclear, military and economic infrastructure before he leaves the White House in Jan. 2009.'

Iraqis take the lead at Al Suleikh. CENTCOM:
Capt. James Peay was starting to feel like a third wheel.

Peay, a battery commander with the 82nd Airborne Division from Nashville, Tenn., was accompanying Iraqi police chief Lt. Col. Ahmed Abdullah on a combined engagement patrol through the east Baghdad neighborhood of Suleikh.

Whenever they stopped to speak with people on the street, Ahmed did most of the talking. Peay stood off to the side, listening as his interpreter translated. His comments were mostly limited to hellos, goodbyes, and thank-yous.

This was Ahmed’s show, and Peay was more than happy to give him the spotlight. It’s not that he is shy, Peay said later, it’s that, ultimately, stability in Iraq depends on the Iraqi security forces – and people like Lt. Col. Ahmed - taking the lead.

Successfully negotiating that difficult transition has become one of the major focuses of the entire war effort, especially since the kick-off of the new security plan for Baghdad, which has placed thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad communities, often living together in the same compounds.

Peay commands one of those new shared bases – the Suleikh Joint Security Station. For more than three months, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been living and working side-by-side with the Iraqi police and Iraqi army at the JSS to coordinate security efforts in Suleikh.

The paratroopers from Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, man the JSS 24 hours a day. ...

Ukraine president takes over ministry troops. Reuters via MSNBC: 'KIEV - President Viktor Yushchenko said on Friday he was taking control of interior ministry troops loyal to Ukraine’s prime minister, a direct challenge to the rival he has confronted for months. Yushchenko issued his decree hours after riot police controlled by the interior minister took over a key building in Kiev following scuffles. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s supporters planned a rally in the city center later in the day. The decree concerns troops largely responsible for maintaining public order and not the army, which is controlled by one of pro-western Yushchenko’s few allies in the cabinet.'

RAF jets save Iraqi police commander. MNF-Iraq:
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 crew saved the life of an Iraqi Police commander by "scaring the all living grace of God" out of rogue militias that had ambushed him.
The crew, Flight Lieutenant Ben Cable, on his first tour of Iraq, and Flight Lieutenant Mike Morgan are both serving with 12 (Bomber) Squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland.

They were on a routine patrol mission over Baghdad when they were directed to provide air support to Iraqi Police Commander Brigadier General Ali Al-Maksusi.

The General and his men were surrounded and under intense fire from militias armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades. They had ambushed the general while he was visiting the Sadr City area of Baghdad.

They called on the Iraqi Police to lay down their arms so they could take the general prisoner. Before doing so, the general was able to contact U.S. forces in the area, which responded immediately by calling in a pair of GR4s. ...

Coalition forces capture 20 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. MNF-Iraq: 'Coalition Forces detained 20 suspected terrorists during several raids targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq around the country Friday morning. In Baghdad, Coalition Forces raided a house looking for a suspected al-Qaeda battalion commander. The ground force detained three suspected terrorists at the targeted location, including the alleged leader. Intelligence reports indicate he is responsible for numerous attacks in Baghdad, including assassinations, attacks on news media and attacks on the city’s infrastructure. Coalition Forces detained 11 suspected terrorists in an operation southwest of Baghdad targeting al-Qaeda leadership. One of the individuals detained is allegedly a close associate of a Libyan who facilitates the movement of foreign fighters in the area.'

Sadr back in Iraq. Debka: 'Iraqi Shiite Moqtada Sadr condemns Israel, Britain and US as “evil trio” in first sermon since returning to Iraq. He addressed 6,000 worshippers at Kufa south of Baghdad Friday. At the same time the powerful cleric urged his followers to use peaceful means to expel the occupation forces. DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources report that after an absence of four months, Sadr has signaled he is amenable to talks with the Americans and Iraq’s Sunni Muslims.' The Fourth Rail: 'Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement and commander of the Mahdi Army, has reappeared in Kufa, the twin city of Najaf, and delivered a sermon after a four month self imposed exile in Iran. Sadr is believed to have slipped back into Iraq one week ago. While Sadr's spokesmen have long claimed Sadr never left Iraq, the pretense has now been dropped. Sadr spoke to over 6,000 followers at a in mosque Kufa, and he railed against the U.S. presence in Iraq. "No, no for Satan. No, no for America. No, no for the occupation. No, no for Israel," Sadr chanted at the opening of his sermon. "We demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces, or the creation of a timetable for such a withdrawal... I call upon the Iraqi government not to extend the occupation even for a single day." Sadr fled Iraq on January 14, after General Petraeus assumed command of Multinational Forces Iraq and announced the Baghdad Security Plan would be taking effect. Sadr immediately left Iraq and sheltered in Iran, and was guarded by Iran's Qods Force, according to reports. Questions remain on what the impact Sadr's return will have on the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan, the status of the Mahdi Army and efforts to quell the sectarian violence.'

Commentary. So with the Hariri investigation moving ahead, the heat may be getting hotter for Bashar Assad. The airlift to Lebanon isn't happening in a vacuum, and Babyface Bashar isn't going to sit still. Here's Across the Bay responding to a May 2 post by "the Syrian regime's obedient flack" (he means, of course, Josh Landis), who suggested that "there is little chance that even Sarkozy, should he be elected, will want to begin his presidency by placing his money on the March 14th government in Lebanon":
The sinister, depraved projection is paradigmatic from someone who has consistently been advocating the abandonment of Lebanon and the return of brutal Syrian suzerainty, the scuttling of the tribunal and with it the complete discrediting of the Security Council, as well as advocating the defeat of the US in the ME.

In other words, the fantasy that the now-incumbent Sarkozy will cave in to "realism" and engage the Assad regime is wishful thinking on Landis' part. Efendi goes on to quote France's new Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has made it clear that "France and the international community are determined to establish the tribunal to try the assassins."

Another hot summer? Iran might get in on the act. And if Debka is to be believed (yeah, I know, it's a big if), "President George W. Bush has determined that if Iran refuses to waive a nuclear weapon capability, the US will attack its nuclear, military and economic infrastructure before he leaves the White House in Jan. 2009."

Update. Whenever the topic turns to Lebanon, I keep one eye on the blog of my friend and fellow Portlander, Michael Totten, and so should you. He's just posted a comprehensive roundup on the next war in Lebanon. Go to Michael's post for the links and excerpts, but here are a few phrases that set the tone: "I thought the citizens of Aley exhibited just the right mix of resolution, self-control, and defiance." "While it may be easy for [the regime in Damascus] to provoke conflict in Lebanon, as they did throughout the war years between 1975 and 1990, the Syrian leadership might not be able to resist the blowback this time around if new hostilities break out." "Almost every Lebanese I know, has changed their MSN display picture to some sort of symbol of patriotism such as the flag, or the army’s emblem and almost every one of them have placed a flower (F) before their display name symbolising their support for the Lebanese Army." "The bottom line is this: everyone knows that this is a rabid terrorist campaign by a psychopathic murderous thug in Damascus, who will stop at nothing. The tribunal must be established without delay, and Assad must be made to pay a tangible painful price for his murderous policy. It's as simple as that."

And there is the transformation of Perpetual Refugee:
The Lebanese were collectively punished last summer for not being able to control a mad man who thought that kidnapping the cubs of a lioness was a game. As he hid safely like a pussy behind a chastity belt, over 1,000 Lebanese died. And the dreams of millions along with them. I hated the Israelis then. Even though I knew a lot of them personally who did not hate me back each time a missile hit Haifa.

And as we collectively punished the Palestinians in their camp for not being able to control mad men who thought that killing the kittens of a declawed housecat would demonstrate their power, I felt no remorse. None. Hypocrite. They should have controlled the madmen, I thought.

Then Boom. A bomb in Achrafieh. Again. A dead innocent woman. Again. Boom. Another bomb in another affluent neighborhood. Verdun. Boom. Another bomb in Aley. Here we go. The birthing pangs of our rebirth.

While the mad men of Damascus started softly gloating, my numbness turned to rage. And while we exercised power over the powerless, I thought back to July of 2006. And I realized. Realized that I was guilty. Of hypocricy.

The terrorists need to be eliminated. There is no question of that. Yet, unfortunately the Lebanese army can't do it. After all, the terrorists don't live in a camp by a cold river. Or in the mountains of Tora Bora. The terrorists live on a hilltop in Damascus. Just follow the sounds of laughter. And the aura of invincibility.