KIRKUK, Iraq – An Iraqi army brigade based in the northern Kurdish region is undergoing intensive training in urban combat and will be dispatched to Baghdad as part of a new joint U.S.-Iraqi security drive in the sprawling and violence-ridden city, the commander said Saturday.
The brigade is one of two coming from the Kurdish region and a third brigade will come from southern Iraq. The second Kurdish brigade will come from the northern city of Sulaimaniyah.
"We will head to Baghdad soon. We have 3,000 soldiers who are currently undergoing intensive training especially in urban combat and how the army should act inside a city," said Brig. Gen. Nazir Assem Korran, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division of the Iraqi army that is based in the city of Irbil.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in his first comments on the new Bush administration plan for restoring security in Baghdad, said the proposal was "identical to our strategy and intentions."
Al-Maliki, however, continued to avoid naming the Mahdi Army Shiite militia of one of his key supporters as a target of the military operations to cleanse the capital of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militia gunmen and death squads.
"Our strategy that aims to control security is based on using force against any outlaws whatever their background or identity," al-Maliki said in a brief appearance on state-run Iraqiya television.
The prime minister told a small group of Iraqi reporters that "what we have seen in the American strategy is that it is identical to our strategy and our intention."
Korran told The Associated Press he did not know how the drive in Baghdad would be carried out but said the Defense Ministry had asked the brigade to take part in the security operation announced by al-Maliki a week ago.
Thousands of Iraqi and U.S. troops are expected to do neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches to clear the city of Sunni Muslim insurgents and local militias such as the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Mahdi Army has been blamed for much of the sectarian killing in the past months.
"We are going to confront any terrorist elements or militias. We will confront any outlaws," the general said.
Korran said his troops would face a language barrier because 95 percent of the brigade is Kurdish and unable to speak Arabic. Kurds, a separate ethnic group, are largely Sunnis but not Arabs.
"I believe that we will bring translators with our brigade to solve this problem," he said.
The general said his troops were part of the Iraqi army and do not belong to local Kurdish militias, known as peshmergas, as some Iraqi media reports have claimed.
"We do not represent any sect or ethnic group," Korran said. "I believe that the plan will include street battles with militias in residential areas. It could also include raids that are needed to wipe out terrorists elements and militias."
Announcing his new security plan for Baghdad last Saturday, al-Maliki said he would fight against "safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of (their) sectarian or political affiliation."
He said the same in October, but then he ordered U.S. forces to pull back from attacks on Sadr City, headquarters of the Mahdi Army. The violent Shiite militia is headed by al-Sadr, the prime minister's key political backer.
Shortly after Bush's speech on Thursday, al-Dabbagh said the new U.S. strategy has "positive points" but he asserted Baghdad's right to demand changes.
"We will tell the American administration to amend any point that we feel is not suitable," he told reporters then.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who opposes Bush's plans to send more U.S. troops amid a fierce congressional debate on the issue, met Saturday with al-Maliki and the two top U.S. commanders during her first visit in nearly a year to Iraq.
The Democrat from New York, who is considering running for president, called the situation "heartbreaking" and expressed doubt the Iraqi government would follow through with promises aimed at quelling the violence.
"I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work," she told ABC News in Baghdad. "And in the absence of a commitment that is backed up by actions from the Iraqi government, why should we believe it?"
"I'm skeptical that the Iraqi government will do what they have promised to do, and that I think is the concern of all of us who have heard this before," she told the network.
Clinton, who was making a one-day visit to the country, was traveling with U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh and Rep. John McHugh, a Republican from upstate New York — all members of armed services committees.
Underscoring the difficulties in taming the violence, at least 11 people were killed or found dead, including a Sunni cleric who was shot to death near his home in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad and five who were slain in separate attacks in northern Iraq, according to police.Click here for more news from Iraq.