An Ebb Proves No Respite In Violent Summer in Iraq

By Andy Mosher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 21, 2006; A13

BAGHDAD, July 20 -- Iraqi police scoured the streets of the capital from dawn till midday, looking for corpses and finding dozens. Residents of a northern city who celebrated the end of a hot day with a scoop of ice cream were ravaged by a car bomb. And the country's foremost religious authority said Iraqis could solve their problems only "with love and peaceful dialogue."

Thursday was one of the quietest days in one of the year's bloodiest weeks, with no single reported attack in Iraq claiming more than 13 lives. Yet the factional violence that has plagued the country since late February -- and reached new heights in the past two months -- simmered in many different areas, taking many different forms.

The violence once again centered on Baghdad, where a car bomb in the morning killed six people, including three police officers, in the neighborhood of Baladiyat; another at noon in the city center also killed three police officers and three civilians; and a third in the afternoon killed three more police officers and three more civilians in the northern Shiite neighborhood of Shula, according to Col. Sami Hassan of the Interior Ministry.

A roadside bomb on the city's eastern side killed two people, he said. Hassan also said police squads searched different areas of Baghdad, looking for the corpses that are found most mornings on the city's streets. Working from sunrise until 1 p.m., in heat that exceeded 110 degrees for much of the day, they found 38 bodies. Most were shot in the head and chest, according to Hassan.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, acknowledged that a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to reduce violence in the capital had not achieved the desired results after slightly more than one month.

During the first 30 days of Operation Together Forward -- which employed 7,200 American troops and 42,500 Iraqi security personnel in stepped-up searches, increased checkpoints and other operations -- the number of attacks in Baghdad averaged 23.7 a day, according to statistics released Thursday by the military. By comparison, the daily average for the previous three months was 23.8.

However, from July 14 through July 18, the five days after the operation had reached the one-month mark, the average number of attacks jumped to 34.4.

"There was in fact a slight reduction in the level of violence" during the first month, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said during a news briefing.

"So there was in fact a slight down-tick that was occurring," Caldwell said, "and progress was being made as we moved forward with this operation."

But the subsequent five days "have been tough," he said. "We have not witnessed the reduction in violence one would have hoped for in a perfect world, but there have been some successes."

Caldwell pointed out that attacks had been concentrated in five areas of the capital. "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," he said.

Across Iraq, the number of Iraqis registered as refugees has jumped by 30,000 since the beginning of July, according to Iraq's Migration Ministry. A total of 162,000 refugees have registered with the ministry since Feb. 22, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern town of Samarra triggered the current phase of intense sectarian fighting.

"We consider this to be a dangerous sign," a ministry spokesman, Sattar Nowruz, told the Reuters news agency.

Northern Iraq was the scene of two of Thursday's grisliest bombings.

In Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad, a crowd had gathered around a car that contained a corpse when a bomb exploded, killing 13 people, including three police officers, according to police Capt. Ahmed al-Qaisi.

And in Kirkuk, 160 miles north of the capital, a car bomb targeting a police patrol blew up in front of Ishtar, one of the city's best-known ice cream shops. The explosion, which killed seven people and wounded 18, occurred at 8:10 p.m., said police Col. Taha Salah al-Din. Most of the casualties were civilians enjoying a cool treat at the end of a hot day.

The relentless violence has elicited calls for peace this week from a wide range of Iraqi, U.S. and international leaders. On Thursday, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite cleric who commands the largest following of any figure in Iraq, called on all Iraqis "to be aware of the danger threatening their nation's future and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in confronting it."

In a statement issued by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the reclusive Sistani said the bloodshed could be ended only by "abandoning hatred and violence and replacing it with love and peaceful dialogue to solve all problems and differences."

Special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi, Naseer Nouri and Saad al-Izzi contributed to this report.

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