US troops in Sadr City (Updated)
Then, in one of those hallucinatory scene-shifts that so often embellish these news-aggregating adventures, suddenly on Friday we are whisked away to a particular spot in southern Sadr City, where the Associated Press reporter Bradley Brooks (sounds like a bad novel, right?) is sitting with Col John Hort in "an abandoned four-storey cold-storage warehouse, overlook[ing] a dusty, trash-littered soccer field that days before was the insurgents' main launching field [for rocket attacks on the Green Zone] commanders said..." How they got there: "US troops reinforced positions on the edges of Sadr City, and battled their way into suspected launch sites."
Hort tells Brooks that they have driven the rocket-launchers farther north in Sadr City, where hopefully some of the 107 mm rockets will be out of range of the Green Zone. "Militants used a few 122 mm rockets, which can be fired from far deeper inside Sadr City, where there is no American presence, but they seem to have few of those weapons," says the reporter, apparently relaying to us what Hort told him.
Meanwhile, nearby the Green Zone, McClatchy reported on Friday in its daily violence summary:
Hort said U.S. forces faced relentless militia attacks in Sadr City, but were able to establish patrol bases overlooking the launch sites.
The militiamen, he said, were "entrenched and determined to fight."
And they haven't yet surrendered the territory.
But if there is any reference to those three mortar rounds falling on the Green Zone on Friday, in any new report that day or this morning (Saturday), I have not been able to find it. It as if the same jinn from Alladin's lamp who showed us US forces driving the rocket-launchers out of range of the Green Zone had a hand in this too. But I don't know.
3 mortar rounds fell on the Green Zone, 2 at 9.45 am and 1 at 12.30 pm, Friday. No further details were available at the time of publication.
Politically, as it has been reported in a lot of places, Moqtada alSadr decided in time for announcement at Friday prayers that the venue for the Wednesday, April 9, mass-march has been changed from Najaf to Baghdad. This followed an uncharacteristically undiplomatic remark attributed to Ambassador Crocker by AlArabiya, to the effect that if they are planning on going to Najaf to make trouble they won't have much support, or words to that effect. A Sadrist spokesman explained that the shift to Baghdad was to make it easier for non-Sadrists to participate, because the anti-occupation theme is common to all Iraqis, not just the folks who frequent Najaf.
Meanwhile, the lead editorial in AlQuds alArabi, among other things a flagship publication for the Sunni resistance, says Maliki is toast. He turned on one of his last allies, the Sadrists, only to find himself deserted by perhaps one-third of his fighting force, and forced to turn to the Americans to avoid a catastrophic defeat in Basra and elsewhere in the South. He will no doubt be thrown out of office, says the editorialist, "either by the Americans, or by the people, or by both".
The editorialist doesn't have anything to say about what comes next. Disappointingly for a paper that prides itself on its nationalist spirit, the editorialist calls the Maliki-Sadr conflict a US-Iranian proxy war, with the US supporting Maliki and Iran providing weapons and supplies to the Sadrists. But there is also a recognition of the nationalist logic of the situation, for instance, when the editorialist expresses regret that the Iraqi Accord Front (the main Sunni bloc in parliament) "opportunistically" sided with Maliki, in hopes of cabinet seats and so on, suggesting it would have been better for them to have allied with the Sadrists. But these are issues that take time to mature.
UPDATE: As of the end of the day Saturday: (1) Quds Press said eyewitnesses reported fighting between the American forces and Mahdi Army fighters in "various parts" of Sadr City, within numbered sections 7, 8 and 9, the only additional detail being that some of the Americans had taken up sniper positions at Allawa Jamila (a big market, according to Ladybird at RoadstoIraq, who flagged this article), and at the nearby tax office.
(2) As for Voices of Iraq, their only Sadr City item on Saturday was a report that said Maliki issued an order permitting ambulances and other essential vehicles into and out of Sadr City and another Shiite area, both still subject to last week's overall ban on vehicular traffic.