The head of one of the two city councils in Sadr city told AFP that he's ready to cooperate with the Iraqi forces in implementing the security plan. In the statement that appeared on al-Mada Kareem Hassan said "The presence of popular armed committees [Sadr militias] will end automatically when Iraqi forces enter the city because the need for the committees will cease to exist"
We talked earlier about insurgents and terrorists fleeing Baghdad to Diyala, and today there's another report about a similar migration, from al-Sabah:
Eyewitnesses in some volatile areas said that large numbers of militants have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped in the incoming security operations.
According to those witnesses, residents and shopkeepers are no longer concerned about militants whose existence in public used to bring on clashes that put the lives of civilians in danger.
A shopkeeper in al-Karkh [western Baghdad] said that many of them [militants] packed their stuff and headed to Syria to wait and see what the operations are going to be like.
While experts consider this a failure in protecting the plan's secrecy which might lead to the loss of the surprise factor, they also say it indicates the seriousness and resolve in this plan that is already scaring away the militants. PM Maliki pointed out that seeing them run away is a good thing but he returned and said the security forces would chase them down everywhere after Baghdad is clear.
As we said in the last update, Maliki won unanimous support for his plan in the parliament and despite some opposition from the radical factions the major blocs are expressing their support and approval of the plan:
Spokesman of the Accord front Saleem Abdullah said after the session that the principles of the security plan have the approval of the front and "constitutes a quality leap toward serving Iraq's people".
Hussein al-Sha'lan of the Iraqi bloc stressed on the importance of cooperation among political powers to ensure the success of the plan which he called "realistic and well-thought".
Abdul Khaliq Zangana of the Kurdish alliance said the plan would deal a heavy blow to Iraq's enemies and put an end to the crimes of outlaws and their backers.
On the other hand citizens we talked to after the prime minister made his speech before the parliament say that there's no place for mistakes or weakness this time but they also seemed confident that Maliki has prepared the right tools for success.
Meanwhile Azzaman says it learned from "informed sources in Baghdad" that major operations will start on the 5th of February. The anonymous sources, according to Azzaman, said that operations against leaders of militant groups and vital targets will be performed to as part of the preparations for major operations that will start on the first week of February.
Immediately after president Bush authorized the US military to capture and kill Iran's agents who are involved in the violence in Iraq, the Iranian Khalq opposition group released a list with the names of 31,000 Iraqis the group said are paid agents for Tehran operating in Iraq, story in the same report linked above.
Jawad Dberan the spokesman of the national council of Iranian resistance, the political wing of Khalq duing a press conference in Germany, accused Tehran of sending weapons and millions of dollars in cash to Iraq every month.
According to Azzaman which quoted from Jawad's statement, that list includes only elements who were directly recruited by the Quds force in Iran. The list is said to provide the Arabic and Farsi names of recruits, their monthly payment in Iranian money along with the code name they use during operations.
Finally, fierce clashes erupted early this morning between US and Iraqi forces with a large group of militants northeast of Najaf. News reports are giving contradicting accounts on the identity of those militants; on the one hand we have the Washington Post and Reuters say they are Sunni insurgents.
On the other hand the Iraqi website Sot al-Iraq says they are a radical Shia group who call themselves "Jama'at Ahmed al-Hassan" or the followers of Ahmed al-Hassan and that their leader, Ahmed al-Hassan claims to be the messenger of Imam Mehdi. An Iraqi journalist from Najaf told a similar story on the phone to al-Jazeera and said the group is a radical Islamist one that was formed after the fall of Saddam's regime.
A Najaf police spokesman, colonel Ali Jrew told al-Hurra TV that the name of the group is "Soldiers of Heavn" and that their leader's name is Abu Gumar al-Yamani and explained "This terrorist group was planning to kill a number of senior clerics and they claim Imam Mehdi is going to appear soon…our action was based on intelligence we gathered recently and we had arrest warrants". The BBC is still not sure of the group's identity.
I'm personally more inclined to believe the story of the two Iraqi sources. After all it's hard to believe that Sunni insurgents could establish a base that hosts several hundreds of armed men this close to Najaf.
More updates will follow later…