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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

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photo by lindsay beyerstein


Dodging the bullet

Iraqi Official Offers Terms From Militia to Avoid Fight

Published: January 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 — An Iraqi official authorized to speak on behalf of field commanders for the country’s most powerful militia has approached Western military officials and laid out a plan to avoid armed confrontation, senior Iraqi and American officials said this week.

The official is Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor of the Sadr City district, the vast grid in the northeast corner of the capital that is the stronghold of the militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Daraji has met twice in the past two weeks with Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, a British officer who is the deputy commanding general in Iraq, said a senior Iraqi official in the office of the prime minister.

During the meetings, which took place on Jan. 17 and, most recently, on Monday, Mr. Daraji laid out a proposal from what he said were all the major political and militia groups in Sadr City, the senior Iraqi official said. The groups were eager to head off a major American military offensive in the district, home to two million Shiites, as the Americans begin a sweeping new effort to retake the streets of Baghdad.

Mr. Daraji said in an interview that field commanders would forbid their foot soldiers to carry guns in public if the American military and the Iraqi government met several basic demands, mostly involving ways to ensure better security for Sadr City. He is communicating with the commanders through a Shiite politician who is close to them.

“The task is to eliminate the armed presence in Sadr City,” he said. “To confiscate illegal weapons,” carried openly by militia members in public places.

The talks appeared to have been the first between an intermediary for the Mahdi militia and a senior commander from the American effort. The military fought the militia twice in 2004, and the militia’s leader, Moktada al-Sadr, a renegade cleric who is virulently anti-American, has resolutely refused to meet with American officials of any kind.

Even so, it was far from clear whether Mr. Daraji, who said he was not related to Abdel Hadi al-Daraji, the former spokesman for Mr. Sadr who was arrested on murder charges last week, was even able to speak for the sprawling, grass-roots militia, which, according to American military estimates, numbers at least 7,000 in Baghdad alone.

The Madhi Army is making every effort to establish that any fight which starts is on the US. They also wouldn't mind if the Sunnis took the brunt of the US efforts.