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Baghdad attacks remain up since al-Zarqawi killed
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq — More than a month after the beginning of a highly publicized security crackdown and the killing of militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the number of daily attacks in Baghdad has actually increased.
Iraqi and U.S. forces began stepping up patrols, creating new checkpoints and conducting additional searches June 14. But the initiative has failed to limit the number of attacks in the capital city, according to statistics released by U.S. military forces Thursday.
In the 101 days before the security crackdown, an average of 23.8 attacks occurred daily. In the first 35 days of the operation, which began June 14, there was an average of 25.2 attacks a day.
The failure of the security crackdown to decrease the violence is yet another sign of the sectarian conflict that has buffeted this city. Continuing violence across Iraq prompted Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's highest-ranking Shiite cleric, to issue a rare public statement Thursday that urged Iraqis to stop attacks against civilians.
"I repeat my call today to all Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities to realize the extent of the danger threatening their country's future and confront it side by side," al-Sistani wrote.
In the statement, which included his personal signature and stamp, al-Sistani called on people targeting innocent civilians to stop setting off car bombs and carrying out executions and start talking with the elected government.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and U.S. military leaders have said their priority is securing Baghdad, increasing residents' feelings of safety by eliminating sectarian militias, death squads and insurgent fighters.
Although the statistics released Thursday appeared grim, officials tried to put the best face on it. Major Gen. William Caldwell, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, said an upswing in sectarian violence in the last few days had driven the averages higher. In the first month of the operation, he said, the number of daily attacks was about the same as the previous 101 days, at 23.7 a day.
"While the last five days or so should not be an indicator of the Baghdad security plan overall, neither can they be brushed aside," Caldwell said. "And again, we will do whatever it takes to bring down the level of violence here in Baghdad."
The death of al-Zarqawi in June had led some to hope that the power of foreign fighters to mount attacks in Iraq would diminish. Although the effectiveness of al-Zarqawi's organization after his death has yet to be tested, it is clear much of the violence in Baghdad is unrelated to foreign fighters. Most of the recent killing in Baghdad involves Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents trading attacks with Shiite death squads.
Military forces in Baghdad have seemed powerless to stop those attacks, and the fighting has led prominent Sunni Arab and Shiite leaders to say their country was gripped by an undeclared civil war.
The violence continued Thursday morning with a car bomb that killed three and injured 10 in downtown Baghdad. In the afternoon a second car bomb killed two people and injured seven others in the Shula neighborhood.
Kirkuk, the northern Iraqi city where ethnic tensions have risen at the same time as the sectarian fighting has exploded in Baghdad, also was the scene of a car bombing. The bomb exploded near the government building in downtown Kirkuk, killing five and wounding 19.
U.S. military forces confirmed they had launched a joint operation with Iraqi security forces in two small cities west of Kirkuk. Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and the Iraqi security forces surrounded the town of Huwija, while a joint force entered the market at the town's center, military officials announced.
Thirty-one Iraqi soldiers have been killed in Huwija in the past five weeks, the military said. Iraqi army officials had announced a joint operation in the Rashad area, also west of Kirkuk, on Wednesday.
The U.S. military statistics showed that in the first four weeks of the security crackdown in Baghdad, attacks had fallen in seven of the city's 10 districts. Caldwell said much of the recent violence occurred in a few neighborhoods, which experience roughly 41 percent of the city's murders.
"We should note the extreme concentration of attacks in roughly five areas around the city," Caldwell said. "This contrasts to the swaths of Baghdad experiencing somewhat relative peace. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis live a regular life day in and day out, unmarred by the violent attacks on civilians in the most troubled areas."
The security operation in Baghdad has taken a heavy toll on Iraqi police and soldiers. U.S. military officials said that 92 Iraqi police and army soldiers have been killed and 444 have been injured in the first four weeks of the operation.
Major Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed, the spokesman for the Iraqi ministry of defense, said one of the biggest problems the security operation has faced was armed groups posing as Iraqi police and army units. "Those groups disrupt any security plan, no matter how good it is," Mohammed said. "That is our main problem."
Caldwell blamed the increased violence on fighters and weapons being brought into Baghdad from other parts of Iraq in an attempt to undermine the security crackdown.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company