2. Firming up US-Shiite Amity

Recent visits to Baghdad by top-level US government officials suggest that Washington is stepping up its hands-on involvement in Iraq, having decided not to leave administrator Paul Bremer and American military field commanders holding the bag unaided.

From now on, the Bush administration will dispatch a senior official to the Iraqi capital from time to time to gain a better sense of events on the ground and to give Bremer and officers on the front line much-needed props for shouldering their burden.

A trip to Iraq earlier this month by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, followed by a visit by secretary of state Colin Powell last weekend, epitomized the new policy.

Despite heavy media coverage of the high-profile tours, the information coming out of the discussions the two secretaries held with the US civilian administration and military commanders is sketchy. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Iraq learn that Rumsfeld gave the go-ahead for the US military to launch combat operations along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Powell, for his part, endorsed the agreements reached by the civil administrators and army with Shiite Muslim leaders. These expressions of mutual trust and support were deemed doubly important for restoring order, stability and calm among Iraq’s millions of Shiites in the wake of the deadly Najaf bombing massacre that struck them on August 29 and the death of their revered Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim.

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