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After mass protest in Iraq: US forces press attack on Sadrist movement
American and Polish troops are continuing the offensive in the Iraqi city of Diwaniyah after cleric Moqtada al-Sadr specifically denounced the military operation during Monday’s mass anti-occupation demonstration by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites in Najaf. The target of the offensive, according to a US military spokesman, is “rogue elements” of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, who are in control of parts of the city. Major Eric Verzola told the Washington Post on Saturday: “We’re looking to round up those folks and to again return stability and safety and the rule of law back to the government of Iraq.”
Diwaniyah, a city of approximately 400,000 people on the Euphrates River some 180 kilometres south of Baghdad, is the capital of Qadissiyah, one of Iraq’s most fertile agricultural provinces. US forces from the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division were moved to the city last week, reinforcing some 900 Polish troops, who are garrisoned in the area, and elements of two Iraqi government army divisions.
Codenamed Operation Black Eagle, the attack on five Sadrist-controlled neighbourhoods of Diwaniyah began last Friday. The entire city is under an ongoing curfew. The US military preceded its assault with an aerial leaflet drop, threatening to shoot any police officer seen on the streets in the targeted areas. The local police stations are loyal to the Sadrist network.
The initial fighting involved street-to-street combat, air strikes and the destruction of several American vehicles by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), as the Mahdi Army tried to block the advance of the occupation forces. Outgunned by US armour and helicopter gunships, however, the militiamen effectively went to ground by Saturday morning.