Militia Withdraws At Key Iraqi Sites
A week after seizing control of Najaf, Iraq’s holiest city, members of a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr relinquished their hold on police stations and government buildings Monday as hundreds of U.S. soldiers mobilized in preparation for an assault on the city.
The withdrawal of Sadr’s forces, the continuation of a cease-fire in the violence-wracked city of Fallujah and the release of seven kidnapped Chinese civilians amounted to the most positive developments for U.S. occupation forces since a two-front war with Shiite militiamen and Sunni Muslim insurgents erupted a week ago.
At the same time, senior military officials reported that two U.S. soldiers and seven employees of the American construction company Kellogg Brown & Root were missing after an attack on a convoy near Baghdad’s airport Friday, and witnesses said 11 Russian energy workers were kidnapped Monday in Baghdad. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said he had formally requested thousands of additional troops to help combat a surge in attacks by militants.
Mixed news indeed. My hope is that we continue to press our tactical advantage and take care of the Sadr situation permanently. A negotiated settlement makes no sense here; he’ll just reemerge at a point of his choosing.
Update: Reuters reports,
Five Ukrainians and three Russians were freed Tuesday, a day after they were seized in Iraq, where a U.S. military crackdown has led to the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners and a flare-up of violence.
A U.S. soldier was killed and near the hotspot of Falluja, witnesses said a U.S. helicopter crashed.
Interfax news agency said that Russia’s biggest contractor in Iraq was evacuating all its 370 staff after the kidnapping of the eight employees from another engineering firm.
Witnesses said the eight returned to the villa from where gunmen had taken them after they came home from work Monday.
“The eight hostages have been freed and are now at home,” Interenergoservis general director Alexander Abramov told Interfax. There was no immediate word on the identity of the kidnappers or what had led to their swift release.
Seven Chinese nationals seized separately near Falluja were freed Monday. Three Czech journalists were reported missing.
The fate of three Japanese hostages whose captors threatened Thursday to kill them unless Tokyo withdrew its troops from Iraq remained unclear.