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Daily Iraq Report for March 22, 2007

3:41 PM, Mar 22, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
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icon.roggio2.gifThe violence in Baghdad remains low as further evidence emerges that Sadr's Mahdi Army is breaking apart. The most high profile incident in Baghdad occurred after a Katyusha rocket slammed into a building next to the one where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was speaking. There were no casualties.

The unstated U.S. strategy to isolate Sadr and divide his Mahdi Army is moving forward. Sadr's militia is "breaking into splinter groups," the Associated Press reports. About 3,000 Mahdi fighters are said to be "financed directly by Iran and no longer loyal" to Sadr. The splinter Mahdi forces have "crossed into Iran for training by the elite Quds force." Qais al-Khazaal, a former aide of Sadr, is said to be leading the faction.

Sadr's power is derived from his control of the militia, combined with the political power he wields in the parliament. With Sadr in Iran, the Mahdi Army split, and some elements negotiating with the government, Sadr has becomes less of a threat to the government. The extremist factions that spin off are a threat, but these are elements that were never going to join the political process. Like al Qaeda, there are elements of the Mahdi Army that will fight until the bitter end.

In an effort to continue the break in Sadr's political block, the U.S. released Sheik Ahmed Abady al Shaibani, a prominent figure in Sadr's Mahdi Army who has been in detention for over two years. Shaibani was released "into the custody of the [Iraqi] Prime Minster" and "could play a potentially important role in helping to moderate extremism and foster reconciliation in Iraq."

In Basra, members of the Shia Fadhila Party and the Mahdi Army clashed after Mahdi fighters surrounded and attacked the Fadhila Party headquarters. Basra was handed over by the British just two days ago.

Also in Basra and Hillah, Coalition forces "captured Qais Khazali, his brother Laith Khazali, and several other members of the Khazali network, an organization directly connected to the kidnapping and murder in January of five American soldiers in Karbala," according to Multinational Forces Iraq. Khazali "has been a spokesperson for Muqtada al Sadr, and is commonly referred to as his senior aide," notes IraqSlogger.

The largest al Qaeda attack occurred inside Mosul, there were no major attacks in Baghdad today. About 1,600 U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a major clearing operation in Mansour in western Baghdad and uncovered "containers of nitric acid and chlorine." Thirty-one suspected insurgents were detained in the sweep. Al Qaeda has conducted a chlorine bomb campaign in Iraq over the past two months with a focus on Anbar province.

Coalition forces continue to work to dismantle al Qaeda's car bomb network inside Baghdad. The chief of al Qaeda's Rusafa car bomb network was captured yesterday, and three other key members of the network were captured during operations over the past 24 hours.

In Mosul, Coalition forces captured a "former Saddam Fedayeen leader involved in setting up training camps in Syria for Iraqi and foreign fighters." The foreign fighters would be al Qaeda, and Syria has hosted training camps for al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Qaeda struck back and bombed the headquarters of Masoud Barazani, the influential leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).