Killings on rise in Iraqi capital

Toll exceeded 330 last week in Baghdad despite crackdown

4 U.S. troops killed

September 05, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- The number of killings in Iraq's capital soared last week despite an American-led crackdown, with morgue workers receiving as many bodies as they had during the first three weeks of the month combined.

At least 334 people, including 23 women, were killed in Baghdad from Aug. 27 through Saturday, according to morgue figures provided by Health Ministry officials. Most of the victims had been kidnapped, tortured, hog-tied and shot.

At least 394 other people were killed around Iraq last week in other violence, including bombings, mortar attacks and gunfights, Iraqi authorities said.

The rise in violence followed an announcement by U.S. and Iraqi officials at the beginning of the week that the number of killings in the capital had fallen drastically during August, from more than 1,800 in July. Although August as a whole was less violent than the month before, last week's killings suggested that death squads are still able to roam around Baghdad despite checkpoints and curfews.

Yesterday, the mutilated, handcuffed and blindfolded bodies of 33 men were found in Baghdad neighborhoods, authorities said.

The U.S. military announced yesterday that four more American troops had been killed and that a fifth had died of noncombat injuries. Two British soldiers were killed as their convoy of armored Land Rovers, which was escorting a reconstruction team, hit a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, said British military spokesman Maj. Charles Burbridge.

In Baghdad, gunmen abducted a soccer player from the Iraqi Olympic team. Ghanem Khudhair Hussein, a 25-year-old striker, had just signed with a Syrian team and was about to leave Iraq when gunmen wearing army uniforms kidnapped him near a mosque in western Baghdad, according to police and Hussein Gitan, a soccer player with Hussein's previous club.

A child died in a shootout between U.S. soldiers and insurgents holed up in a safe house in Muqdadiyah, the U.S. military said in a statement yesterday. U.S.-led forces raiding a house of a suspected insurgent financier came under fire and shot back, killing two suspected insurgents and the child.

As part of the recent and much-publicized security crackdown, dubbed "The Battle of Baghdad" by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, about 11,000 Iraqi and American soldiers were sent to the capital to reinforce security forces. In the past few weeks, soldiers have cordoned off some neighborhoods and flooded those streets with round-the-clock patrols.

"We have seen progress and a degree of success in the neighborhoods we're in," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. "This is going to be ebb and flow."

In Adhamiya, a northeastern Baghdad neighborhood, American troops recently watched the ebb and flow firsthand. Killers had been dumping bodies by the dozens each week in the Sunni neighborhood. So many corpses were found on one particular street, residents nicknamed it the Street of Death. When American soldiers arrived in Stryker vehicles as part of the security crackdown, the bodies stopped appearing.

The Strykers left three days ago. Yesterday, soldiers found their first body since then on the Street of Death, a teenager who had been shot in the head.

"We can't stop the killings and the kidnappings," said Capt. Michael Baka of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. "All we can do is to prevent as many as we can."

As part of the security sweeps in Baghdad, American and Iraqi troops have searched 45,800 buildings, including 49 mosques, according to a U.S. military statement. They have detained 75 terrorist suspects and confiscated at least 1,000 weapons and found 26 weapons caches, the military said.

In the past, after Americans have turned over control of certain areas to Iraqis, violence has flared up once they leave.

Iraqi forces "lack training and weapons," said a high-ranking Iraqi army officer who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. "The terrorists have more powerful weapons."

The Iraqi army "can't accomplish all the missions but depends on the multinational forces to do most of the tasks," he said.

Over the weekend, the U.S. military postponed plans to formally hand over control of Iraq's armed forces to the Iraqi government.

The event was supposed to mark another step toward Iraqi control and the eventual withdrawal of some U.S. forces. Instead, the ceremony has been repeatedly postponed. Iraqi and U.S. officials described the delays as technical and bureaucratic, adding that the two sides are trying to complete a written agreement that will cover the new relationship between their forces.

Yesterday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said he expected the parties to sign the agreement this week.

"It will allow Iraqi forces to control where they are and have full sovereignty," he said. He added, however, that "it will be optional to ask for assistance, and definitely they'll need assistance."

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