Army sees Iraq progress despite rise in violence

General notes tips from civilians, improved Iraqi security forces


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq acknowledged yesterday a recent spike in violence against civilians but said the nation has made "magnificent" progress toward building stability, in large part because of its improved security forces.

A day after Iraq's president reported that the Baghdad morgue had received 1,091 murder victims in April, U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that Iraqi authorities have markedly increased police and army patrols and have been able to stave off worse carnage because civilians have been delivering a record number of tips about suspected insurgents.

"People want to talk about what the enemy did. But they don't talk about what the enemy couldn't do," Lynch said in his weekly press briefing. "And there is a lot he couldn't do because of that increased presence."

Lynch said that the past 10 weeks have seen a particularly high number of attacks on civilians, about 80 percent higher than late last year. Yesterday, violence again struck a broad geographic and demographic spectrum of Iraqis, taking the lives of four police officers, a judicial investigator in Baghdad, a Sunni politician near Basra, a schoolteacher on her way to work in Baqouba, a doctor working at his clinic in Mosul and four laborers cleaning a street in Baghdad.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed in roadside bombings near Baghdad, the military reported.

Much of the increase in violence is believed to be connected to sectarian animosity between majority Shiite Muslims and the Sunni Arab minority that held sway under dictator Saddam Hussein.

"We are indeed concerned about the increased number of attacks against civilians," Lynch said. But he urged the news media and other observers to recognize that progress is being made.

The spokesman, giving his last presentation at the press center in Baghdad at the end of his yearlong tour in Iraq, said Iraqi citizens have become "fed up" with violence. That resulted in a record 5,855 tips to authorities during April, he said, with "99 percent" of them leading to the capture of insurgents or weapons.

Lynch noted a caller who saw an insurgent placing a bomb on a bridge between Baghdad and one of its suburbs last week, a tip that enabled the removal of the explosive within 25 minutes.

Among the other successful interventions that American forces announced yesterday was the Iraqi police seizure of an arms cache a day earlier in the west end of the capital. Found inside a house were 142 land mines, 58 blocks of explosives, 22 rocket-propelled grenades, a launcher, 59 mortars and other items. Three men were arrested.

In Baqouba, Iraqi police and army units arrested three dozen gunmen in army uniforms who had kidnapped 10 people. Five hostages were released and five were missing.

Lynch credited the growing ranks of the Iraqi police and army with leading such actions. About 120,000 men have been added since the start of 2005, and the force now numbers 254,000, he said. Plans call for the total to grow to 325,000 by year's end, the general said.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope that the violence will be quelled with the formation of a new government, but negotiators announced no substantial progress yesterday in naming a Cabinet.

James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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