Baghdad attacks rise despite efforts

About 25 a day

Shiite leader urges Iraqis to halt violence against civilians

July 21, 2006|By JULIAN E. BARNES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- More than a month after militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed and a highly publicized security crackdown began, the number of attacks each day in Baghdad has increased.

Iraqi and American forces began stepping up patrols, setting up new checkpoints and conducting more searches June 14. But Operation Together Forward has failed to reduce the number of attacks in the capital, according to statistics released yesterday by the U.S. military.

In the 101 days before the crackdown, an average of 23.8 attacks occurred daily. In the first 35 days of the operation, the average was 25.2 attacks a day.

Continuing sectarian violence across Iraq prompted Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's highest-ranking Shiite Muslim cleric, to issue a rare public statement yesterday urging Iraqis to halt attacks on civilians.

"I repeat my call today to all Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities to realize the extent of the danger threatening their country's future and confront it side by side," Sistani wrote.

In the statement, which included his signature and stamp, Sistani called on those targeting civilians to stop setting off car bombs and carrying out executions and start talking with the elected government.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. military leaders have said their priority is securing Baghdad, and increasing residents' feelings of safety by eliminating sectarian militias, death squads and insurgent fighters.

Though the statistics released yesterday appeared grim, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, said that an upswing in sectarian violence in the past few days had driven the averages higher. In the first month of the operation, he said, the number of daily attacks was about the same as in the previous 101 days, at 23.7 a day.

"While the last five days or so should not be an indicator of the Baghdad security plan overall, neither can they be brushed aside," Caldwell said. "And again, we will do whatever it takes to bring down the level of violence here in Baghdad."

The death last month of al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, had led some to hope that the power of foreign militants to mount attacks in Iraq would diminish. Though the effectiveness of the organization has yet to be tested since his death, it is clear that much of the violence in Baghdad is unrelated to foreign militants. Most recent killings involve Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents trading attacks with Shiite death squads.

On Monday, the bodies of 32 Sunni men were found in Baghdad, apparently the victims of Shiite death squads. The killings were followed by a suicide bombing in a Shiite neighborhood in the southern town of Kufa that killed 57 day laborers.

Military forces in Baghdad have seemed powerless to stop the attacks, and the fighting has led prominent Sunni and Shiite leaders to say that their country is in the grip of an undeclared civil war.

The violence continued yesterday with a car bomb that killed three people and wounded 10 in downtown Baghdad. A second car bomb killed two and injured seven in the Shu'la neighborhood.

In northern Iraq, a car bomb exploded near the government building in downtown Kirkuk, killing five and wounding 19.

U.S. military forces confirmed that they had launched a joint operation with Iraqi security forces in two small cities west of Kirkuk. Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division and Iraqi security forces surrounded the town of Huwija, while a joint force entered the market at the center of the city, military officials said.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.

KILLED IN IRAQ

As of yesterday, at least 2,557 members of the U.S. military have died since March 2003.

Identifications

Staff Sgt. Michael A. Dickinson II, 26, Battle Creek, Mich.; died Monday in Ramadi when his patrol was hit by small-arms fire; assigned to the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, 4th Psychological Operations Group, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Staff Sgt. Jason M. Evey, 29, Stockton, Calif.; died Sunday when a bomb detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Team, Fort Hood, Texas.

Sgt. Andres J. Contreras, 23, Huntington Park, Calif.; died Saturday when his vehicle was hit by an explosive in Baghdad; assigned to the 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Combat Support Brigade, Fort Polk, La.

[ Associated Press]

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