Violence Down in Baghdad

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

BAGHDAD, March 14 -- U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday that the month-old Baghdad security plan has reduced the level of violence in the capital, but they cautioned that the security situation in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq remains unstable.

The top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said sectarian killings had decreased since the operation began in mid-February but noted a record number of bombings in Baghdad last month.

"By the indicators that the government of Iraq has, it has been extremely positive," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said. "But I would again caution everybody about patience, about diligence. This is going to take many months, not weeks."

Brig. Qassim al-Mousawi, an Iraqi military spokesman, also offered an upbeat assessment of the Baghdad security plan in a separate briefing. He said 94 militants had been killed and 713 had been detained since the operation began. He also said more than 2,000 families displaced by sectarian violence had been able to return home. He said 59 Iraqi service members had been killed.

Unlike Caldwell, the Iraqi brigadier offered statistics on violence in the capital. He said bombings had decreased from 163 to 102 during the first four weeks of the security plan compared with the previous four weeks. The number of car bombs dropped from 56 to 36 during that time, he said.

Some surrounding provinces have experienced an increase in violence, however. More soldiers are being deployed to Diyala province, north of the capital, a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

A suicide bomber on Wednesday detonated a belt with explosives in Tuz Khormato, in northern Iraq, killing at least 10 people and injuring 17, police said.

Two roadside bombs exploded in the capital. One, set off in front of a restaurant in eastern Baghdad, killed one person and wounded three. The other, in southwest Baghdad, targeted a police patrol, killing two and wounding four.

Many of the recent large-scale attacks have been committed by suicide bombers, some of whom have skirted the increased security measures by carrying explosives in vests rather than vehicles.

"If the high-profile car bombs can be stopped or brought down to a much lower level, we'll just see an incredible difference in the city overall," Caldwell said.

Six U.S. troops were killed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Three died Wednesday in Diyala province, the military said in a statement, two whose vehicles were bombed in separate attacks and the third from small-arms fire.

On Tuesday, a Marine was killed in Anbar province in western Iraq and roadside bombs in different parts of Baghdad killed two soldiers.

Also Wednesday, Col. Muhsin Hussein Abed, the director of intelligence in Maysan province in southern Iraq, was fatally shot as he was leaving his house, police said.

Caldwell said U.S. military officials continue to believe that Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr remains in Iran. Sadr is the leader of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia.

"He's a very significant part of this entire political process. . . . We are, in fact, tracking his whereabouts," Caldwell said. He said Sadr's presence in Iran was confirmed as of "24 hours ago."

Sadr reportedly went to Iran and instructed top aides to leave Baghdad as the stepped-up security measures took effect. Sadr City, his largest support base and formerly one of the most volatile parts of Baghdad, has been relatively secure in recent weeks. The U.S. military is setting up a small outpost there, a move that would have been unthinkable a few months ago.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani returned to Iraq on Wednesday after hospital treatment in Amman, Jordan, for symptoms of what aides described as fatigue and stress.

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