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Iraq's progress "magnificent," U.S. contends
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq acknowledged Thursday a recent spike in violence against civilians but said the nation has made "magnificent" progress toward building stability, in large part because of its improved security forces.
A day after Iraq's president reported that the Baghdad morgue had received 1,091 murder victims in the month of April, U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said Iraqi authorities have increased police and army patrols and been able to stave off worse carnage because civilians have been delivering a record number of tips about suspected insurgents.
"People want to talk about what the enemy did. But they don't talk about what the enemy couldn't do," Lynch said. "And there is a lot he couldn't do because of that increased presence."
Lynch said that the last 10 weeks have seen a particularly high number of attacks on civilians, about 80 percent higher than late last year. In recent days, there have been an average of 85 attacks around the nation, he said.
On Thursday, violence again struck a broad geographic and demographic spectrum of Iraqis, taking the lives of four police officers, a judicial investigator in central Baghdad, a Sunni politician near Basra, a teacher on her way to work in Baqouba, a doctor working in his clinic in Mosul and four laborers cleaning a street in Western Baghdad.
Officials also reported the deaths of four U.S. Marines when their tank rolled off a bridge into a canal and of three U.S. soldiers in roadside bombings near Baghdad.
At least 2,434 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
Much of the increase in violence is believed to be connected to sectarian animosity between the now-dominant Shiite Muslims and the Sunni Arab minority that held sway under President Saddam Hussein, toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"We are indeed concerned about the increased number of attacks against civilians," Lynch said. But he hastened to urge the media and other observers to recognize that progress is being made.
The spokesman, giving his last presentation at the media center in Baghdad at the end of his year tour in Iraq, said Iraqi citizens have become "fed up" with the violence. That resulted in a record 5,855 tips to authorities during the month of April, he said, declaring that "99 percent" of them had led to the capture of insurgents or the seizure of weapons.
"Twenty-five minutes," Lynch said. "Amazing."
Among the several other successful interventions that American forces announced Thursday was the Iraqi police seizure of an arms cache a day earlier in the west end of the capital. Found inside a home were 142 land mines, 58 blocks of explosives, 22 rocket-propelled grenades, a launcher, 59 mortars and other items. Three men were arrested.
In Baqouba, meanwhile, Iraqi police and army units arrested three dozen gunmen wearing army uniforms who had kidnapped 10 people. Seven hostages were released but three remained missing.
U.S. troops killed at least one kidnapper and wounded another, said Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, commander of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor.
More than 30 people were taken into custody, Iraqi police said, and interrogators were trying to determine their identities. Some gunmen told police they belong to the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and had come from Baghdad, Iraqi authorities said.
Fisher said the incident may have been "tribal in nature." He did not elaborate, but tensions have been running high for months between Shiite and Sunni communities in religiously mixed Diyala province.
Lynch said roughly 120,000 men have been added since the start of 2005 for total Iraqi forces of 254,000, he said. Plans called for the total to grow to 325,000 by year's end.
The U.S. military has said many new recruits are Sunni Arabs, despite repeated violence and intimidation aimed at preventing members of the sect from working for a fledgling government that is now largely in the hands of Shiites.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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