Into Madaen

US troops led multi-national forces into the town south of Baghdad where 60, 70, or up to 150 hostages might be held by Sunni insurgents looking to clear Shiites from the area.

“The town is now under the control of Iraqi and multinational forces. … They are raiding areas where it is suspected that hostages may be,” Kassim Daoud, interim minister of state for national security, told Dubai-based al Arabiya TV.

Iraq’s state-run al Iraqiya television said the guerrillas had threatened to kill the hostages within 24 hours, and a senior Shiite official in Baghdad said Iraqi and U.S.-led forces were expected to launch a major overnight rescue bid.

The Iraqi government had tried to negotiate with the insurgents, but to no avail. There’s also a lot of fog, and some sources claim that the number of hostages might be far lower. In any event, it’s going to be a bit of a showdown, I think.

Sectarian tensions had already been running high in the mixed Sunni and Shiite town before the standoff.

“There are security problems in Madain with tribal implications. Some people are trying to use it to create sectarian strife,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

The abductions were the latest in a series of tit-for-tat kidnappings caused by the growing antagonism between Sunnis and Shiites in the town.

“For weeks there have been kidnappings by one group and then the other,” said a police official, who asked not to be named.

Iraq’s leaders have been playing down sectarian tensions as they struggle to form a government that can balance the interests of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds after decades of iron-fisted rule by Saddam Hussein.

Well, Iraq’s leaders are going to have to play down sectarian tensions for decades to come. No secret, there. Sunnis tried to blow up a Shiite mosque in the town Thursday.

In the Washington Post:

The situation in Mada’in “is very bad, everyone is scared,” said Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for the predominantly Shiite Muslim political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, which has asked for an official report to parliament.

“We feel this is an important issue and has threatened the political process,” added Dabbagh.

Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said he could not confirm the reports of hostage-taking because “the communications were so bad today we could not contact our police or the officials” in Mada’in. He said the ministry had sent police commandos to the farming town.

I wonder if the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force is involved. You’d think so.

[Sheikh Ali Bashir Najafi, the son and spokesman for senior Shiite cleric Bashir Najafi,] added that the extremists doing such things “are not Iraqis. This kind of act is shameful and against the unity of the country and we stress the right of all Iraqis to live together. The Sunnis and Shiites are brothers.”

A man in Najaf who gave his name only as Abu Jassim, or Father of Jassim, told The Post that he had left Mada’in earlier this week with his seven children because the extremists, who are residents of the town, “told us if you don’t leave we will destroy the whole family.

“We have no power in that place because most of the people are Sunnis and Wahhabis,” he added. “They have the doctrine of fighting the Iraqi government, the American forces and the Shias because the Shias do not fight them.”

My guess is that these particular thugs are going to be meeting a few Shias who will fight, and the meeting will be in the very near future.

Also, I wrote earlier that this town (which is variously referred to as Madaen, Madain, Mada’in, and Al Madain in typical translation woes) might be the same town as Salman Pak. A Russian map I showed indicated that this is probably the case, and a friend of mine who speaks Russian confirmed my suspicion. However, the WaPo story calls Salman Pak “a town near Mada’in” so maybe the map is wrong and they’re not one and the same. Anyone with better info would be very welcome to comment.

UPDATE: According to the latest on MSNBC, the US military has said “it had no information on the matter”. Maybe just operational security during an ongoing incident. Maybe it’s been blown way out of proportion.

Could be that a couple of pissed locals started spreading rumors, a reporter or two bit, and the next thing you know it’s a major crisis.

My guess is that it’s a real crisis and that US forces are at least supporting if not leading the operations to recover the hostages and remove the terrorists from the equation.

Also, Iraq the Model has a post on the story.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is going to go on for a long time in Iraq. We need the Iraqi police and military forces to rise to the occasion, and we need the citizens to refuse to stand for this type of behavior on the part of what are more than likely nothing more than gangland thugs playing terrorist.