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."
"We profoundly regret when any innocent civilian is killed or injured," the statement said, adding that the incident was being fully investigated.
In the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed three civilians and injured 12, said Brig. Gen. Abdel Karim al-Jubory, a police spokesman. And in Tikrit, police found a roadside bomb and took it to a police building after they thought they had defused it. But the device exploded, killing a member of the police bomb squad and injuring three, police said.
In eastern Baghdad, Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah was hit by 12 rockets early Sunday. No serious injuries were reported, but some vehicles and buildings on the base were severely damaged, including several trailers that house soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex.
"Inches and seconds," the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sauer, said as he surveyed the damage to his trailer from the rockets' concussions after the 25-minute attack. The trailer was ruined. The ceiling and walls were caved in, and a large refrigerator was on its side after being thrown halfway across the room. The toilet and sink were in pieces, and everything Sauer owned was either ruined or coated in dirt and dust.
After the first rocket exploded, he threw himself on the floor between his bed and a wall, he said, and during a lull in the attack he crawled through the debris and made his way to his battalion headquarters, where windows and doors had been blown out.
Now, the attack over, he stood outside his trailer staring at a hole in the ground where one of the rockets had struck. "See that bug?" he said, watching a type of large bug that is ubiquitous in Rustamiyah crawling across the crater. "A week ago, I would have crushed it. But it's Sunday . . . so I'm going to let it live."
Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Dalya Hassan in Baghdad, Dlovan Brwari in Mosul and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.