U.S. Cites Drop In Attacks Since Buildup in Iraq; Bombs Kill 20

By Sudarsan Raghavan and David Finkel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 19, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 -- U.S. officials on Sunday declared a 55 percent drop in attacks since the launch of an offensive nine months ago, while bombs across Iraq killed at least 20 people, highlighting the country's continuing security threats.

The dead included three children who were playing soccer when a roadside bomb exploded at a playground near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military reported the deaths of three soldiers in a suicide attack in Baqubah. Early in the day, a barrage of mortar and rocket fire struck U.S. bases in Baghdad.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a senior U.S. military spokesman, said violence in parts of Iraq had fallen to its lowest levels since summer 2005. Iraqi civilian casualties are down 60 percent since June, and they have dropped 75 percent in Baghdad, Smith said.

But Sunday's attacks brought a tone of caution.

"The fight we're up against has not gone away. Today's mortar and rocket attacks demonstrate that the enemy has the capacity to wage violence," Smith said. "We're working our way through those attacks and the level of damage."

In response to reports that Iran was limiting its alleged support to Shiite militias, U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said it was unclear whether the country had played any role in the downturn in violence.

"It's difficult to read trends in reductions," Reeker said. "Vis-a-vis Iran's action, that is something we're not yet prepared to do."

"Make no doubt . . . Iran has been the principal supplier of weapons, arms, training and funding of many militia groups," Smith said. "That has not changed."

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said Sunday that "since the beginning, the United States has raised baseless accusations against Iran."

In Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, considered one of the safest areas of the city, an explosives-laden car detonated, killing six people and injuring nine, police said. The dead included five policemen. Police said the attack targeted a deputy finance minister, who was unharmed.

The governor of Muthanna province, in Iraq's Shiite south, accused U.S. troops of opening fire on civilian cars Sunday and wounding six people. In a joint statement, the U.S. Embassy and military said initial reports indicated that "an incident involving a U.S. military convoy resulted in the death of two Iraqi citizens and wounded four others."

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