By Andy Mosher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 9, 2005
BAGHDAD, July 8 -- The U.S. commander of military forces in and around the Iraqi capital said Friday that insurgents apparently are no longer capable of carrying out more than sporadic attacks in Baghdad after a seven-week security crackdown.
Maj. Gen. William Webster, who heads the 30,000 U.S. and foreign troops and 15,000 Iraqi soldiers known collectively as Task Force Baghdad, cautioned that "there are some more threats ahead. I do believe, however, that the ability of these insurgents to conduct sustained high-intensity operations, as they did last year -- we've mostly eliminated that."
Scattered acts of violence were registered around the country on Friday. In the town of Balad, 50 miles north of the capital and beyond the zone protected by Task Force Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded three, the military reported.
Police reported that three gunmen were killed while planting a homemade bomb on the main road between Baghdad and Mahaweel, 45 miles to the south, the Reuters news agency reported.
Webster said the recent change in the intensity of attacks was a result of Operation Lightning, a joint U.S.-Iraqi crackdown in Baghdad that began in late May, after a month in which more car bombs were detonated around Iraq than in the entire previous year.
Since the operation began, he said, the number of car bomb attacks in Baghdad and the surrounding area had been cut by half -- from between 14 and 21 per week to seven or eight -- principally by focusing on disrupting the insurgents' ability to manufacture such devices.
The number of roadside bombings and mortar and rocket attacks in Baghdad also had been reduced, Webster said in a video news conference with reporters at the Pentagon. "I don't think we can say this is a permanent solution, but I would say in the next couple of months we will not see sustained, long, bloody months in Baghdad," he said.
Webster also said U.S. commanders had held talks with Iraqi officials about a possible American role in providing security for foreign diplomats, one day after the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq announced that it had killed Egypt's top envoy here, Ihab Sherif. No final plan had been agreed on, Webster said, and it was not clear whether U.S. forces would be directly involved in guarding diplomats.
Sherif's body has not been found, "and at this point, we don't have any leads," Webster said.
Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, said Thursday that if diplomats wanted better security from Iraqi police, they should ask for it.
In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement that the United States "strongly condemns the vicious kidnapping and murder" of Sherif.
Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.