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U.S. Building Partition In Sadr City to Stem Flow Of Fighters

Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, U.S. forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and U.S. forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, currently attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

On Wednesday night, huge cranes slowly lifted heavy concrete blocks into place under a moonless sky. The barriers were implanted on Al Quds Street, a major thoroughfare that separates the Tharwa and Jamilla districts to the south from the heart of Sadr City to the north.

The avenue was quiet except for the whirring sound of the cranes and thud of the barriers as they touched the ground. Contractors operated the cranes, but U.S. soldiers transported the barriers on trucks and directed their placement.

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west.

U.S. Lacks a Pakistan Plan, Report Finds

The Bush administration has failed to develop a government-wide plan to combat terrorism in Pakistan’s unruly tribal areas, even though top American officials concede that al-Qaida has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and has established safe havens in that border region, government auditors said on Thursday.

In a searing report, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, sharply criticized the administration for relying too heavily on Pakistan’s military to achieve American counterterrorism goals, while paying only token attention to economic development and improving governance.

Nearly $6 billion of the $10.5 billion in aid that Washington has provided to Pakistan since 2001 has been directed toward combating terrorism in the tribal areas, the report said. But about 96 percent of that aid has gone to reimburse Pakistan for its use of 120,000 troops in counterterrorism missions in that area that have shown little success.

In a rare acknowledgment, senior officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad told the government auditors that they had received no strategic guidance from Washington on designing, carrying out, financing and monitoring a coordinated American strategy, the report said.

Only in March 2006, after President Pervez Musharraf asked President Bush for help with Pakistan’s wide-ranging counterterrorism plan for the tribal areas, did the American Embassy begin coordinating efforts by the Pentagon, State Department and Agency for International Development for a complementary strategy, the auditors found.

Iraq Suicide Bomber Kills 30 Mourners

A suicide bomber killed 30 people at a funeral in Diyala province on Thursday, and a fierce dust storm that blanketed much of Iraq provided cover in Baghdad for intensified rocket attacks into the fortified Green Zone.

The bombing, at a funeral for two Sunni tribesmen, was the second major suicide attack in three days in the northern province, which the U.S. military says has largely been wrested from the control of insurgents. On Tuesday, a suicide car bombing in Baquba, the provincial capital, killed at least 40 people.

Fierce fighting also continued Thursday in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces are seeking to stop Shiite militias from using the area as a launching ground for rockets and mortars aimed at the Green Zone, where Iraq’s central government and the U.S. embassy are housed.

According to the embassy, no one was wounded Thursday in the attacks on the zone. Rocket and mortar fire on the Green Zone has dropped off significantly in recent days after a few weeks when there were multiple attacks daily.

In Diyala, relatives had gathered in the small village of Albu Muhammad for funerals for the two men, who were killed by gunmen two days before. They were nephews of a prominent Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Kareem Kamil al-Azawi.

In Tight Security, Olympic Torch Passes Through Delhi

The Olympic torch made a strange and lonely procession through central New Delhi on Thursday, with the event so overshadowed by fears of the anti-Chinese protests that marred its appearances in other cities that the public was not allowed close enough to witness it.

The 70-odd Indian athletes and celebrities who carried the torch down the widest avenue in New Delhi, the capital, were outnumbered by thousands of members of the Indian security forces, who stamped out any pomp and excitement, turning the occasion into a tense security operation.

The police said later that 276 protesters, largely Tibetans, had been arrested, under preventive charges, while trying to breach the security cordon.