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NSN Iraq Daily Update 2/06/08

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WHILE BUSH DIVERTED EFFORTS TO IRAQ, AL QAEDA REGROUPED IN PAKISTAN

Al Qaeda is gaining strength from its refuge in Pakistan and is steadily improving its ability to recruit, train and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States, said the director of national intelligence. The director, Mike McConnell, told lawmakers that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, remained in control of the terrorist group and had promoted a new generation of lieutenants. He said Al Qaeda was also improving what he called "the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S." -- producing militants, including new Western recruits, capable of blending into American society and attacking domestic targets. A senior intelligence official said Tuesday evening that the testimony was based in part on new evidence that Qaeda operatives in Pakistan were training Westerners, most likely including American citizens, to carry out attacks. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blamed the Iraq war for undermining the campaign against Al Qaeda. "The focus of America's military forces and intelligence resources were mistakenly shifted... from delivering a decisive blow against Al Qaeda, which is the enemy." [NY Times, 2/6/08]

U.S. FORCES "STRESSED"

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that U.S. forces are "significantly stressed" by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This stress is exacerbated by the military's ongoing efforts to battle violent extremism elsewhere, as well as other commitments and responsibilities. "The pace of ongoing operations has prevented our forces from fully training for the full spectrum of operations and impacts our ability to be ready to counter future threats," Mullen said in testimony prepared for delivery Wednesday in separate hearings of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. [AP, 2/6/08]

NATIONAL POLICE CONTINUE TO BATTLE SECTARIANISM

Iraq is making an effort to overhaul the national police, a force that is equated in the minds of many Iraqis with Shiite death squads that kidnap, torture, and kill Sunnis. Last year, national police chief Maj. Gen. Hussein Awadi sent recruiting teams into former Sunni insurgent strongholds such as Anbar and Diyala provinces to persuade Sunnis to join the overwhelmingly Shi'a force. He has also pulled hundreds of corrupt and abusive policemen off the streets; standardized uniforms, equipment and training; and introduced a computerized payroll to help reduce fraud. However, U.S. military officials in Iraq acknowledge major shortcomings in the national police, but insist Iraqi leaders are weeding out sectarian elements. But it is a work in progress. When one Sunni officer, from a recently retrained unit west of Dora, was asked recently whether he trusted the mostly Shi'a men under his command, he considered the question for a moment, then raised a clenched fist and said, "I have them under my hand." [LA Times, 2/6/08]

VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO RAGE

U.S. troops kill at least 3 Iraqi civilians in raid. U.S. troops killed at least three Iraqi civilians and injured a child during a raid north of Baghdad on Tuesday. According to the U.S. military, insurgents from "a suspected terrorist cell" fired upon U.S. soldiers, who returned fire, killing two men and woman. However, according to other reports, soldiers fired on unarmed civilians. The attack came a day after the U.S. military said it had inadvertently killed nine civilians in an air strike in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad. [Washington Post, 2/6/08]

REFUGEE CRISIS CONTINUES

Iraq will ask Jordan to exempt illegal immigrants from hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in order to help them return home. An embassy official said on Wednesday. If they decide to leave Jordan, Iraqi illegal residents have to pay a fine amounting to $760 each for every year they stayed in the kingdom. Such fines may prevent some 360,000 Iraqis who live in Jordan illegally from returning home. While decreasing levels of violence in Iraq have encouraged some to return home, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the returnees face deplorable living conditions and a highly dangerous security situation. [AFP, 2/6/08]