Civil war reached the boiling point this week in the Iraqi city of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, only a few miles from one of the largest concentrations of U.S. troops in Iraq, Camp Anaconda.  --  The inability of Iraqi security forces and a curfew to stem the violence has resulted in U.S. troops being dispatched there, with results that are so far uncertain, McClatchy newspapers reported Tuesday.[1]  --  "Balad is populated primarily by Shiites. Sunnis, however, are the dominant sect in the province, Salah al Din, whose capital, Tikrit, is the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. . . . Dujail and Balad have Salah al Din's only significant concentrations of Shiites," Nancy Youssef noted.  --  But a Reuters report described accounts of "black-clad Shi'ite militias [who] went door to door hunting for [Sunnis who] said they saw bodies dumped on streets."[2]  --  Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times observed that "Balad and Dujayl are particularly vulnerable to sectarian strife.  The Shiite towns, with strong ties to clerics in southern Iraq and in Iran, lie in the middle of a heavily Sunni Arab area sympathetic to the insurgency. The Shiites' vulnerability gives the militias popular support, and the government's weakness gives the latter free rein."[3] ...

1.

U.S. FORCES MOVE TO QUELL SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN BALAD
By Nancy A. Youssef

McClatchy Newspapers
October 17, 2006

http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/15782387.htm

BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military has sent troops to the Iraqi city of Balad and the surrounding area to help re-establish order after Iraqi troops and police were unable to quell a surge of violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims over the weekend that left at least 57 people dead.

Confirmation that American troops have been sent back to Balad came as Iraq's bloodletting continued. At least 700 Iraqis have been killed so far this month nationwide, according to numbers provided by police in Iraq's largest provinces. In addition, 58 U.S. soldiers have died so far this month, a trend that if it continues will make October one of the deadliest months for Americans since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The decision to send American troops into Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, was another setback for U.S. hopes that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of security for the country. Violence has increased steadily throughout Iraq despite an increase of tens of thousands of American-trained Iraqi soldiers and police, and U.S. officials concede that their strategy of training Iraqi troops to replace Americans hasn't worked.

U.S. authorities had turned over responsibility for Balad's security to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, in April.

American forces began returning to the city Saturday and are patrolling there, though it was unclear Tuesday whether Balad and the surrounding area have been pacified.

U.S. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Martindale, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, said in a statement released Tuesday that his troops were patrolling alongside Iraqis in Balad. "By coordinating all of our efforts, we have seen a marked decrease in violence in the past 24 hours," the statement quoted Martindale as saying.

Residents, however, said that Balad and the nearby town of al Dulyiyah remained under the control of armed groups that had targeted the residents and may have killed as many as 100 in four days of violence.

The violence in Balad and al Dulyiyah underscores how explosive the rivalry between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities has become and how ineffective Iraqi security forces often are. Residents said some Iraqi police officers had contributed to the slaughter.

Balad is populated primarily by Shiites. Sunnis, however, are the dominant sect in the province, Salah al Din, whose capital, Tikrit, is the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Samarra, where an explosion Feb. 22 devastated the sacred Shiite Askariya shrine, is in Salah al Din. The shrine bombing touched off Iraq's current sectarian bloodletting.

Accounts of what took place over the weekend vary, with residents, Iraqi police and American officials giving differing numbers of dead.

U.S. officials say the violence began last Friday when gunmen kidnapped at least 19 Shiites in Balad and murdered them. On Saturday, according to the American account, gunmen seized 38 people in the Sunni town of al Dulyiyah, exactly double the number of Shiites killed the day earlier. Their bodies later were dumped in Balad.

Two U.S. military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the subject, tied Friday's kidnappings and murders to the trial of Saddam Hussein on charges that he ordered the killings of 148 Shiite residents of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him in 1982. Dujail and Balad have Salah al Din's only significant concentrations of Shiites.

What happened after Saturday's kidnappings and murders is unclear. Residents say that as many as 100 Sunnis were killed around Balad as Shiite militias took control of the region. American officials said they couldn't confirm that figure.

Residents said Shiite police commanders were involved in some of the killings and that U.S. forces, several thousand of whom are based at nearby Camp Anaconda, made no effort to stop the bloodshed.

So far, American and Iraqi forces have detained two Iraqi police officers allegedly involved in the killings of the Sunnis from al Dulyiyah, Martindale said.

--McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Hassan al Jubouri in Tikrit, Iraq, contributed to this report.

2.

MILITARY RAMPAGE IN IRAQ TOWN HIGHLIGHTS PM WOES

Reuters
October 17, 2006

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/17/AR2006101700499_pf.html

DHULUIYA -- Sunni families fleeing revenge killings in a Tigris town north of Baghdad described on Tuesday how black-clad Shi'ite militias went door to door hunting for them and said they saw bodies dumped on streets.

The violence, which has left more than 60 people killed in the Shi'ite town of Balad in the last four days, was an apparent retaliation for the slaying of 19 Shi'ite laborers, whose bodies were found on Friday with their throats cut in an orchard in nearby Dhuluiya, a mostly Sunni town across the Tigris River.

Iraq is gripped by sectarian bloodshed between Muslim Shi'ites and Sunnis, and the rampage in Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, is an example of the huge challenges Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is facing in containing the threat of civil war.

U.S. troops, who have a large base near Balad, are helping Iraqi troops to enforce a curfew and patrol the town, the U.S. military said. Residents said Balad remained tense on Tuesday after mortar rounds slammed into homes in the last two days, killing four people, local hospital sources said.

"Fifteen black-clad gunmen came on Sunday night and told me: 'You are a Sunni from the al-Dulaimi tribe. You have to leave before the morning.' The next day I fled with my family and my four brothers along with their families," Ali Hussein, a merchant, 40, told Reuters in Dhuluiya.

"They did not allow us to take anything but hand baggage and they forced us to leave our cars, so we walked for 8 km until we reached Dhuluiya. Thank God they let me live," he said.

Ahmed Abdullah, a Sunni, said he saw bodies on the streets.

"Killings are taking place on the roads. There are gunmen deployed in the streets of the city and riding cars. I saw that on Monday," he said, speaking on the phone from Balad.

"POPULAR REACTION"

Amir Abdul Hadi, the mayor of Balad, said Mehdi Army militias loyal to pro-government Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took part in what he described as a "popular reaction" to the killing of the laborers.

"There are popular armed groups to defend the districts. Mehdi army already exists in the town and they participated in defending the town against the criminals," he told Reuters.

"What happened is a reaction for the killing of the laborers. We all became Mehdi Army in defending our city."

He called on Sunni families who have fled Balad to return.

Maliki, a Shi'ite, has pledged several times to rein in powerful militias since he took office four months ago. But disbanding them is delicate because they are tied to political parties in his coalition. They are also infiltrated in the police, which Maliki has vowed to revamp.

Sadr, the head of the Mehdi army and a growing political force in post-war Iraq, has loyalists in Maliki's cabinet. Moving against Sadr, who has waged two insurgencies against U.S. forces, could alienate Maliki, who faces growing pressure from Washington to ease violence.

The U.S. military said in a statement that more than 60 Iraqis were killed as a result of sectarian violence in Balad in the last four days, including 19 Shi'ites workers kidnapped and killed in Dhuluiya.

"We continue to conduct our normal patrols in the city and provide support for Iraqi Security Forces as they lead operations in stopping the sectarian violence in Balad," Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Martindale, from the 4th Infantry Division, said in a statement.

Martindale said U.S.-led troops detained two Iraqi police allegedly involved in the killing of the laborers.

Qasim al-Qaisi, director of Balad hospital, told Reuters 49 bodies had been brought to his hospital since Friday, including those of the Shi'ite laborers and locals killed by mortars.

3.

TROOPS TRY TO CURB WARFARE NORTH OF BAGHDAD
By Borzou Daragahi

** Openly sectarian attacks, targeting scores of people in killings and kidnappings, draw attention to the divided area around Balad. **

Los Angeles Times
October 18, 2006

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-iraq18oct18,1,1993983.story?coll=la-news-a_section

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi troops sought to restore order Tuesday to a lush farming district north of the capital where more than 100 Sunni Arabs and Shiite Muslims have disappeared or been brutally killed in sectarian fighting in recent days.

Thirteen carloads of Shiites from the town of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, were reported Tuesday to have been kidnapped the previous night. Their fate was unknown.

U.S. military officials tallied at least 63 killed in fighting between Shiite and Sunni villagers around Balad since Saturday. Witnesses and police gave higher estimates of fatalities. The violence has been notable for its character of open warfare and its overtly sectarian targeting.

In addition to the Iraqi dead, four U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday morning when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said, disclosing no further details. At least 63 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month.

In Balad, the sectarian fighting first broke out Friday, when at least 19 Shiites were kidnapped and beheaded. The next day, Shiite militiamen abducted and executed dozens of Sunni residents, occasionally pulling people from their cars and setting fire to their bodies. Sunnis then began firing rockets into the mostly Shiite town, killing at least half a dozen people.

Men in police uniforms seized unused Iraqi police checkpoints near Balad on Monday and Tuesday night, according to witnesses and security officials.

Witnesses also reported that large groups of men -- identified by locals as Sunni Arab insurgents -- carrying AK-47s were flooding Sunni Arab areas east of Balad, positioning rocket launchers and mortars in the villages outside the town. The men demanded identification from passing drivers.

"They stopped us," one Shiite resident of the area said by telephone. "They asked me, 'Are you Sunni or Shiite?' I told them I'm a member of the [Sunni] Mashadani tribe, and showed them a fake identification card."

Four mortar rounds landed in Balad on Monday night and early Tuesday, killing one person and injuring four, a hospital official said.

The provincial governor called Tuesday for an immediate tribal summit. Security forces also sealed off the nearby Shiite town of Dujayl in an effort to prevent a similar outbreak.

U.S. forces began providing assistance to Iraqi military units at the request of Iraqi civic and military leaders.

"We continue to conduct our normal patrols in the city and provide support for Iraqi security forces as they lead operations in stopping the sectarian violence in Balad," said Army Lt. Col. Jeff Martindale, commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. "We are also providing counter-fire support against terrorists conducting indirect fire attacks against innocent civilians in Balad.

"By coordinating all of our efforts, we have seen a marked decrease in violence in the past 24 hours," Martindale said.

Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and once-dominant Sunni Arabs have been locked in civil conflict across Iraq for months. Hundreds of corpses are found scattered throughout religiously mixed central provinces each week.

At least 50 Iraqis were killed and 44 injured in violence around the country Tuesday.

Balad and Dujayl are particularly vulnerable to sectarian strife. The Shiite towns, with strong ties to clerics in southern Iraq and in Iran, lie in the middle of a heavily Sunni Arab area sympathetic to the insurgency.

The Shiites' vulnerability gives the militias popular support, and the government's weakness gives the latter free rein.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has been unable to tame the violence or the Shiite militia groups that answer to powerful parties in his coalition.

Under pressure from U.S. officials and Iraqi politicians to show changes in a police force widely believed to be infiltrated by the militiamen, Iraq's interior minister has reshuffled a pair of key positions under his control, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Mehdi Ghrawi and Rasheed Fleih, both generals commanding specialized police units in the field, have been reassigned as "part of a routine restructuring process," Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Kareem Khalaf told reporters. Under the restructuring plan, the two generals' posts will be combined and given to one as-yet-unnamed commander.

Khalaf insisted that neither man was implicated in death squad activity. He said Fleih will take over a post in the branch's intelligence division while Ghrawi will become deputy police chief for the capital.

Amid rumors here that the U.S. might back a change in the government of Iraq, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a favorite of U.S. Embassy officials, returned this week to Iraq, where he rarely appears though he heads a 25-seat parliamentary bloc.

"His presence is important during this period because the country is passing a crucial stage, during which all leaders of political movements and the politicians must be present in the country," said Wael Abdul Latif, a member of Allawi's coalition.

Modest efforts to diminish the power of radical militias and their political allies often spark civil disturbances or violence. Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's followers called for a massive demonstration in northern Baghdad today to protest the arrest of a leader of their movement.