No 'Plus-Up' Planned for Troop Levels in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2004 U.S. Central Command officials are studying all aspects of the recent surge of violence in Iraq, and believe they are prepared to counter it. The command has not requested any additional forces for operations in Iraq.
A senior command official, speaking on background, discussed the violence in Iraq and said the command is concerned about the threat that Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, poses.
Iraq is calmer today, but the command again is studying the situation in the country. "We are always in the business of planning, and we always plan worst- case scenarios," he said. "And clearly if this thing got out of control over there, we would have to start looking at the number of forces that we have in theater and whether they were adequate to meet our needs."
The official hastened to point out that all believe there are enough American forces in Iraq to handle the situation now. "In fact, we have more forces right now in Iraq than we had three or four months ago," he said. Troops are rotating into Iraq and redeploying out. There are now about 134,000 U.S. service members in the country, compared to 120,000 in November.
The official also said coalition forces in Iraq are beginning operations in Fallujah a city of 300,000 that was a hotbed of support for the former regime. Five U.S. soldiers were killed north of the city and four U.S. security specialists were killed and their bodies mutilated on March 31.
"We are currently conducting operations in Fallujah," the official said. Forces have established a cordon around the city to monitor traffic going in and out and "we are beginning operations to seek out those that committed the tragic acts last week."
But the violence incited by Muqtada al-Sadr and carried out by his Mahdi Army are a more immediate concern to Central Command. The official called Sadr a "minor cleric" who is trading on a famous family name. He is related to two grand ayatollahs. He said Sadr is "more or less marginalized by most of the Shiia community."
Violence erupted during a Sadr-sponsored demonstration in Najaf on Sunday, along with violence in Baghdad and Nasiriyah. In Baghdad, his followers took over some Iraqi police stations, and the 1st Armored Division lost eight soldiers taking them back.
The official said coalition forces in Iraq will go after the illegal militias. "We need to deliberately go after the militia folks that are conducting these sorts of attacks and de-arm them and take them apart, and make sure that it is clearly understood that they are illegal and they are doing things that are outside the system of justice in Iraq," he said.
Sadr's Mahdi Army is at the top of the list. "We are going to focus on disbanding them, de-arming them, and we'll do that deliberately and with a plan, so as not to just go in with all guns blazing and hurt or kill or damage those folks that live in the neighborhoods and are innocent bystanders to all of this," he said.
Coalition authorities announced today that an Iraqi judge had issued a warrant for Sadr's arrest for his involvement in murdering Ayatollah As Seyed Ala-Majid al-Khoei last year.