Sunni Violence in Baghdad Called Disrupted

By Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 28, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 27 -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has been disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital.

"In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point," Petraeus said. He added: "They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that."

Throughout the U.S. military buildup this year, soldiers have focused on denying sanctuaries to al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters by arresting their leaders, attempting to hinder foreign fighters from entering the country, and partnering with Sunni residents to improve the quality of intelligence about the organization. In recent months, U.S. and Iraqi military commanders have noted a marked decrease in sectarian violence and in civilian and U.S. casualties.

Petraeus, speaking to reporters during a trip to the southern outskirts of the capital, attributed the reduction of violence in part to military operations outside the capital targeting areas where car bombs and other explosives are manufactured, before they can be deployed in Baghdad. He said one of the last remaining al-Qaeda in Iraq strongholds in Baghdad had been the southeastern section of Dora, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in the southern part of the city, but after military operations over the past two weeks, "that was reduced, certainly."

"They're still there, don't get me wrong, and they're still in Adhamiyah, there's still some in Mansour," he said, referring to other Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is just one of many groups, large and small, fighting in Iraq. The Shiite militias in particular have pursued campaigns of sectarian cleansing, at times working with Iraqi security forces to kill and displace Sunni families.

Petraeus said he sees uneven progress in terms of stopping Shiite militia violence. He mentioned Bayaa and al-Amil, two neighborhoods in southwestern Baghdad where the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has emerged as a dominant force, as among the more difficult. He described another nearby area, Sadiyah, as probably "the toughest that is out there now."

Fresh violence broke out across the country Saturday, with at least 23 people killed or found dead in separate incidents, the Associated Press reported.

In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers said they killed 40 suspected insurgents during an operation with U.S. troops targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The fighting took place east of the provincial capital, Baqubah, and was assisted by former Sunni insurgents who have recently aligned themselves with U.S. forces, they said.

In northern Iraq, three roadside bombs targeting a convoy of trailers carrying concrete blocks south of Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded six others, said police Col. Abbas Muhammad Ameen in the city of Tuz Khormatu. Two other bombs detonated in Kirkuk near police patrols, killing one officer and wounding five, police said.

The U.S. military also announced that an American soldier had been killed by small-arms fire Thursday in Salahuddin province.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials issued fresh bellicose threats to invade northern Iraq and take on Kurdish guerrillas holed up in the mountains there. Thousands of Turkish citizens protested against the guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and chanted condemnations of the United States.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said international pressure to refrain from an invasion would not affect his decision.

"The moment an operation is needed, we will take that step," Erdogan told a crowd in the northwestern port city of Izmit, according to the Reuters news service. "We don't need to ask anyone's permission."

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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