NDN Blog

Letter from Birmingham Jail

There are many ways to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. King.  I have made it an annual ritual to reread one of the most inspirational speeches I've ever read, his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.  The Letter is particularly important for members of our community to review.  Its views have had a profound influence in setting my own political course these last few years. 

There are many places on the web where one can pull it down.  Our version today comes from the Nobel Peace Prize site, and what follows is a particularly compelling passage:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to 6e solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some-such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation....

Bush's Iraq narrative is "incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue"

Via Susan G at Daily Kos, Mark Seibel of the McClatchy News Service takes on the President's new Iraq narrative (the piece is worth reading in its entirety):

WASHINGTON - President Bush and his aides, explaining their reasons for sending more American troops to Iraq, are offering an incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue version of events there that raises new questions about the accuracy of the administration's statements about Iraq.

President Bush unveiled the new version on Wednesday during his nationally televised speech announcing his new Iraq policy.

"When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation," he said. "We thought that these elections would bring Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

"But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains Iraqis had made. Al-Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's election posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.

"They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate," Bush said. "Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today."

That version of events helps to justify Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq, in which U.S. forces will largely target Sunni insurgents and leave it to Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite government to - perhaps - disarm its allies in Shiite militias and death squads.

But the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics. It also ignores the role that Iranian-backed Shiite groups had in death squad activities prior to the Samarra bombing.

Blaming the start of sectarian violence in Iraq on the Golden Dome bombing risks policy errors because it underestimates the depth of sectarian hatred in Iraq and overlooks the conflict's root causes. The Bush account also fails to acknowledge that Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups stoked the conflict.

President Bush met at the White House in November with the head of one of those groups: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI's Badr Organization militia is widely reported to have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and to be involved in death squad activities.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recited Bush's history of events on Thursday in fending off angry questioning from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about why Rice had offered optimistic testimony about Iraq during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in October 2005.

"The president has talked repeatedly now about the changed circumstances that we faced after the Samarra bombing of February `06, because that bombing did in fact change the character of the conflict in Iraq," Rice said. "Before that, we were fighting al-Qaida; before that, we were fighting some insurgents, some Saddamists."

She cited the version again in an appearance later that day before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is a direct result of al-Qaida activity," she said, asking House members not to consider Iraq's sectarian violence as evidence that Iraqis cannot live together.

Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley used the same version of events in an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Much like the administration's pre-war claims about Saddam's alleged ties to al-Qaida and purported nuclear weapons program, the claims about the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra ignore inconvenient facts and highlight questionable but politically useful assumptions....

Why is Rice still the Secretary of State?

In Iraq, Americans are "being played like a pawn"

From Monday's Times:

“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad closely involved in negotiations over the plan, expressing frustration. “We are being played like a pawn.”

The rest of the story doesn't get any better.  All about how the negotiations with the Iraq government about the President's new plan aren't going so well. 

A terrible week for Bush

I wrote last weekend that in my 20 years in the political and media business I had never seen such a bad pre-rollout of a major Presidential initiative as the rollout of the "new way forward" in Iraq.  Well, a week later, I have to say I have never seen such a terrible rollout of a Presidential initiative.  The general chatter and press this weekend is unrelentingly bad, almost amazingly so.   The President's plan is dead in Congress, has weakened his standing in the nation and will now guarentee a contentious and perhaps dysfunctional American government these next two years - all at a time of great challenge here and abroad. 

Man do we have a lot of work to do.

Maliki next?

People associated with the President's Iraq strategy keep losing their jobs.  The Republicans lost their majority, Lieberman his primary, Rumsfeld, Casey all gone.  Now according to Secretary Gates, Maliki could be next:

Testifying on Capitol Hill about the plan for the second straight day, Mr. Gates said that Iraqi lawmakers might decide to replace Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, if he failed to take steps to carry out the new plan to regain control of Baghdad.

“The first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job,” Mr. Gates said. “There are beginning to be some people around that may say, ‘I can do better than he’s doing,’ in terms of making progress.”

Administration officials have discussed among themselves whether they might need to withdraw support for Mr. Maliki if he doesn’t perform, notably by building a new coalition in the Iraqi Parliament. Mr. Gates’s statement was the first mention of the subject in public by a senior administration official.

Mr. Gates and other administration officials have had trouble explaining to lawmakers why they are confident that Mr. Maliki will carry out promises to send more Iraqi troops to Baghdad and to permit them and the additional American forces to operate in Shiite neighborhoods, where they have been blocked from conducting operations in the past.

Mr. Gates conceded that the Iraqi government’s record of fulfilling its commitments is “not an encouraging one,” but said Mr. Maliki now seemed to him “eager” to follow the plan worked out with American commanders.

He acknowledged that Mr. Maliki initially had wanted to carry out the intensified military effort in Baghdad without more American troops. In addition, American military commanders feared that, without American forces monitoring their operations, there could be even worse sectarian bloodshed.

“There’s no question in my mind that Prime Minister Maliki wanted to do this operation on his own,” Mr. Gates said, but he was “persuaded that additional American forces were needed in order to make his plan succeed.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, seemed to sum up the skepticism about Mr. Maliki among lawmakers in both parties when she noted that he “did not seem to welcome” the idea of sending more American forces when she met with him in Iraq just weeks ago.

“I’m really skeptical that the prime minister has really bought into this plan,” she said.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's announcement there was an extraordinary movement of people into new positions.  We have a new Secetary of Defense, new Intelligence chief, a new UN Ambassador, a new Ambassador to Iraq, several new generals.  Of course the leaders of the Iraqi plan - Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove - all remain.  It is remarkable how desperate the Administration has been to lay blame on others - Rumsfeld, General Casey, Maliki, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Democrats - and not take responsibility for the core of what has gone wrong in Iraq - a very badly thought through and badly executed plan from the very get go.  And for that the President must accept total responsibility.

An extraordinary day in Washington

As a progressive, the last few months have been exhilirating.  Modern day conservatives had failed our nation, and were punished, deeply, at the polls.  New and fresh people came to Washington, with new ideas.  The mood here has been excited, optimistic.  The 100 hours plan started tackling long overdue problems, and has made great progress.  But it was yesterday, in the two major committee hearings on Iraq, that we see how different things are in Washington now.  Debate has come back to Congress, and Democrats increasingly look like the party of responsible government.

The tv talk shows, the news, no matter how you've checked in these last 24 hours have been bad for the White House, extraordinarily bad, bad in ways they have not experienced before.  It isn't just that at this point the President has lost credibility, and seems to have ignored the will of the American people.  It is that Members of Congress, led by the Democrats, are re-asserting their Constitutional role and questioning the Administratration in public, under-oath, something that hasn't been done since Bush took office.  I actually heard reporters talking about being in a Committee Room for a Congressional hearing.  Not sure I've heard that exact language in years. 

So the stories this am are about how the Administration was dismayed, shocked, taken aback by the way they were received on Capitol Hill.  What this means in English is they have never had Congress, a co-equal partner in the American government, and a body that can do a great deal to influence the national debate, do much more than repeat the Administration's talking points back to them.  The best example of this I found is a from a Times piece reporting on an exchange between Hagel and Rice that has not gotten as much attention as other moments in her testimony:

But it was left to Ms. Rice, an important fixture — and survivor — in an administration now in its seventh year, to defend against the tough condemnations in the Senate, where a vote on a resolution about the war could take place as early as next week.

Seated alone at a large table in front of the committee in a chilly Senate hearing room, where the front rows were filled with protesters, Ms. Rice appeared frustrated at times, as committee members variously interrupted her, challenged her or all but accused her of representing a dishonest administration.

Lawmakers argued with Ms. Rice over what to call the latest plan — she corrected critics who referred to it as an “escalation,” describing it as an “augmentation” — and over whether a civil war is underway.

When Ms. Rice asserted that insurgents, not warring Shiite and Sunni factions, were mainly responsible for American casualties, Mr. Hagel shot back, “Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different.”

He added, “To sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that’s just not true.”

“Well, Senator, if you’ll — ,” Ms. Rice began.

“That is not true,” Mr. Hagel repeated.

“Senator, if you’ll allow me to finish,” Ms. Rice said, visibly exasperated, finally conceding that Iraqi attacks on other Iraqis are taking place in the form of death squads.

For years the Administration has lied to the American people with inpunity.  Yesterday the Secretary of State tried once again to lie, mislead, confuse - whatever the term - on a truly important matter and was called out on it in a big way by a leading Republican Senator.  Members of Congress of both parties will continue to re-assert their historic role, and take greater responsibility for governing.  This oversight, accountability, will no doubt begin to change the way the Administration operates.  And for that let us be thankful to the wisdom of the American people for bringing in a new team that wants to more than anything else restore the critical role of the Congress in our system of government.   

Let the hearings - by the way a great word in itself - continue!

The US raids an Iranian consulate

The Times got a reporter into Erbil today.  Read the piece.

Our go it alone President

An era of bipartisanship.....that's what the President promised right after the election.  Less conflict, more comity.  But last night the President once again took the approach that has defined his Administration, one that has caused his government to be such a remarkable failure - he choose to fight, alone.  By choosing this path, inevitability, he will end up once again reminding the world the limits of American power, the Presidency and of course his own very inadequate leadership.  While his words may have been noble and strong, there is something very classically tragic about what is unfolding in Washington right now. 

Bush's allies keep dwindling.  Just yesterday Tony Blair, his primary Iraq partner, announced that he will start reducing the number of British troops in Iraq.  Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative stalwart, announced he was joining Republican Senators Collins, Hagel and Smith in opposing the President's plan.  And the only Democrat he could evoke was the former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who in one of the most politically provocative - and farcical - moves of the night, was called on to convene a bi-partisan working group to help win the war on terror.

I'm also a little more than worried about the threats in the speech made against Syria and Iran.  Are they idle threats, political positioning, or is the President seriously looking at attacking other nations in the region? Given what a remarkable failure our Iraq strategy has been, how is this something that is being seriously considered? 

Of all the things I've read since the speech the most helpful was a news analysis from the NYTimes this morning.  Some excerpts:

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In so doing, Mr. Bush is taking a calculated gamble that no matter how much hue and cry his new strategy may provoke, in the end the American people will give him more time to turn around the war in Iraq and Congress will not have the political nerve to thwart him by cutting off money for the war...

“It’s more than a risk, it’s a riverboat gamble,” said Leon E. Panetta, a Democratic member of the Iraq Study Group and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “There’s no question that under our system he’s going to be able to deploy these troops without Congress being able to stop him. But he’s going to face so many battles over these next few months, on funding for the war, on every decision he makes, that he’s basically taking the nation into another nightmare of conflict over a war that no one sees any end to.”


After Democrats swept the November midterm elections, people both inside and outside the administration expected the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to provide Mr. Bush with a face-saving exit from the war. Mr. Bush made favorable reference to the study group on Wednesday night, noting that he had accepted some of its 79 recommendations.

But he rejected its central notion, that the United States should set a timetable for scaling back combat operations and mount a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iran and Syria. Mr. Bush concluded that those recommendations were not a recipe for victory, but rather, as he said after a meeting with Mr. Maliki in November, a recipe for “a graceful exit,” a path he did not want to pursue. At their meeting, Mr. Maliki presented Mr. Bush with a plan calling for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad, shifting American troops to the periphery of the capital. Instead, Mr. Bush concluded that the United States would have to take a central role, because the Iraqis were not capable of quelling the sectarian violence on their own.

In a sense, it is a predictable path for Mr. Bush. This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide. And this is the same president who, after winning re-election in 2004, famously told reporters that he had “earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

But no American president has been able to prosecute a war indefinitely without the support of the American public. With polls showing fewer than 20 percent of Americans supporting increasing troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush and those Republicans who support him know that the new policy will be a tough sell.

“The American people have no reason in the world to think it’s going to work just like the president paints it,” said one of those backers, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, “but I think the American people, in their usual good sense, are going to wait around for a while and say, ‘Mr. President, you’ve taken us down a lot of roads in Iraq, let’s go down this one and see if it works.’ ”

The question for Mr. Bush is just how long the American people, and their elected representatives, will wait.

Finally, by taking this "riverboat gamble," one other thing the President has probably "sacrificed" is bi-partisan progress on a whole host of other pressing issues facing the nation today.

Republicans abandon their President, and McCain

We know the generals are against the new Bush strategy, most Democrats are, the American people by more than 3 to 1, and we also know a handful of important Republican Senators have expressed grave reservations or outright opposition.  As I wrote recently, the rollout of the President's new strategy has been one of the most disasterous rollouts of a major policy initiative that I've seen in the last 20 years.  With so much high level opposition, his plan is politically Dead on Arrival, though what that means in practice remains to be seen. 

In a NYTimes piece today, Republican Senator John Warner, ranking Senate Armed Services member, asks the kind of tough, but very simple questions that need to be asked:  

In an interview on Tuesday, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said he was becoming increasingly skeptical that a troop increase was in the best interest of the United States. “I’m particularly concerned about the greater injection of our troops into the middle of sectarian violence. Whom do you shoot at, the Sunni or the Shia?” Mr. Warner said. “Our American G.I.’s should not be subjected to that type of risk.”

Congressional Republicans must be despondent.  They just got roundly defeated and tossed from power.  The failed Iraq strategy was one of the primary reasons they lost.  They come back to DC and start to regroup.  And the first major thing the White House does is go its own way on Iraq, and in a way that is politically perilous for the GOP.  One of the two strongest candidates for the Republican nomination, John McCain, is standing right there by the President's side, watching his own political career possibly go up in flames. 

The fighting in Baghdad today

The Times has an early report, and it reinforces how difficult it is going to be for America or our troops to bring peace to Iraq:

The fighting on Haifa Street, a broad two-mile boulevard that cuts through the heart of the capital, began nearly a week ago as an attempt to secure the safety of citizens caught in the middle of the fighting and ended with pitched battles in the street. It is a reminder of how difficult the Baghdad mission will be.

The American crackdown on Tuesday came on the fourth day of intense fighting in the neighborhood, a collection of tightly packed apartment buildings and 20-story high-rises that was the home of many top-ranking government officials and Baath party loyalists while Saddam Hussein was in power. American soldiers continued to patrol the area through the night and an American military spokesman said they would stay there until the situation was firmly under control. Gunfire and explosions could be heard in the neighborhood well after the sun went down.

An American military officer familiar with the operation said that it was part of an effort to stabilize Baghdad but was not directly linked to the president’s new security plan.

But the location of the fight has particular significance.

Nearly two years ago, after much bloodshed and toil, the American military wrested control of the area from insurgents.

Haifa Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, used to be called Purple Heart Boulevard by American soldiers. More than 160 troops from the First Battalion of the Ninth Cavalry were injured trying to secure the area. By the spring of 2005, they had largely done so and it was trumpeted as a signal success.

Tuesday’s operation, directed by elements of the Stryker Brigade of the First Cavalry Division and Iraqi Sixth Army Division, came after a series of events that, taken together, demonstrate the complexity of the fight for American forces and the maze of competing interests they are trying to navigate.

It also suggests that even if the Americans attempt to deal even-handedly with Shiite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents, an aim that is expected to be a central theme of President Bush’s plan, their efforts could end up inadvertently benefiting one party or the other.

Shiites are clearly ascendant throughout Baghdad, systematically taking over Sunni Arab neighborhoods, often using the intimidation of death squads to achieve their goals. But the area around Haifa Street has remained a Sunni bastion.

For the past two years, it has been relatively quiet, but in recent months, as the sectarian fighting has intensified, Iraqi and American military officials suspected it was being used as a base of operations for insurgents targeting the Shiite civilian population and American forces.

The violence in the area started to increase markedly following the recent arrest of a senior member of the leading Shiite militia group, the Mahdi Army, who was operating near the area, according to an American military official.

The arrest, the official said, created an opening for Sunni Arab insurgents, and they began aggressively singling out Shiites who had relocated south from the neighborhood of Khadimiya, the official said.

On Saturday, 27 bodies were dumped in the Sheik Marouf neighborhood on Haifa Street. They were Shiites, four with their throats slit and the rest shot in the head, according to an Iraqi government official.

When the Iraqi police went to investigate and collect the bodies, they were attacked, according to witnesses and government officials. The Iraqi Army was called in and was also attacked, so finally the Americans were called in.

For residents, the situation was already bleak and getting worse, with no electricity for days and armed men taking control of lawless streets.

But the Sunni Arabs in the area were still hostile to the Iraqi security forces, largely viewed as agents of the Shiite-led government.

“People were disgusted and were enraged by the activity of the security forces,” one resident said.

Late Saturday night, Iraqi government officials and witnesses said that Sunni insurgents had set up a fake checkpoint and were pulling Shiites from their cars and executing them, even, some claimed, stringing three bodies from lamp posts.

“Some of my friends told me they saw some of the bodies hanging from lamp posts,” said Jabbar Obeid, 39, who lives in the area.

American officials said Tuesday that while many people were being executed in the area, they found no evidence of people being hanged on lamp posts. Many Sunni residents said the claims were nonsense, aimed at inciting more sectarian violence.

Sunni Arab organizations and politicians on Sunday began condemning the government’s security clampdown.

“Day after day, the sectarian crimes against the Sunnis in their neighborhoods in Baghdad are continuing,” said Adnan Dulaimi, a member of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. The government’s actions over the weekend were a “barbarian attack” aimed at clearing the neighborhood of Sunnis, he said in a statement.

In fighting in the neighborhood Sunday, 11 Iraqi Army soldiers were killed when they ran out of ammunition, Iraqi officials said.

American military officials said by then they already had solid evidence to suggest that Sunni insurgent leaders were using the neighborhood as a base of operations. They said that the fighters were organized and sophisticated, including trained snipers and insurgents from foreign countries.

One Sunni Arab resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed as much, saying that insurgents had taken over to such a degree that a top-ranking Al Qaeda official had even seized control of al-Rafadin Bank, set up an Islamic court and began handing out death sentences.

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