U.S. forces capture arms in E. Baghdad

Authorities say violence reduced in some areas

September 27, 2006|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. military authorities said yesterday that they had seized five weapons caches and made more than 20 arrests in a two-week sweep aimed at taming two violent Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of East Baghdad. But within hours, police said they had found two new corpses in the district.

The grim finds were among 19 bodies dumped in and around the capital -- most of them blindfolded, handcuffed, shot and sometimes tortured -- in a day that also saw 11 bombings and several mortar attacks across Iraq.

"This operation reduced the amount of violence in this specific area. It increased the perception of security and set the conditions for Iraqi forces to ... improve essential services for the people," said Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade combat team that undertook the operation, along with Iraqi forces, in Baghdad's Shaab and Ur neighborhoods.

"But military means alone cannot defeat the insurgency or the militia killing teams. It will take the support of the people, and the government of Iraq."

American authorities have postponed the drawdown of U.S. troops, extended tours and moved additional forces into Baghdad in an effort to stem the outburst of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunni Arabs that has left much of the capital far more dangerous than when U.S.-led forces first moved to topple the government of Saddam Hussein and the first wave of pro-Hussein insurgents in 2003.

A total of 15,000 troops are now assigned to back up the Iraqi army and police in a series of intense, house-to-house searches under the operation dubbed Together Forward. Officials say the raids are to be followed by intense efforts to re-supply electricity and repair health clinics.

Since June, when the neighborhood sweeps began, there have been mixed results. In the Dora district, dozens of bombs were found after troops left; in Adamiyah, new checkpoints around the perimeter have come under repeated attack.

In Shaab and Ur, a stronghold of the Shiite Muslim Mahdi Army, Stryker Brigade teams working with Iraqi troops and police have searched 36,000 buildings and 23 mosques since Sept. 14, looking for weapons and anyone openly displaying illegal weapons.

"The majority of the people are happy to see us and look forward to better security in this area. They are tired of the militia violence, the kidnappings and murders," Shields told reporters.

In Adamiyah, targeted by troops earlier in the summer, some residents said shops and cafes were now remaining open for the first time into the early evening hours. But in Shaab, one 29-year-old shopkeeper said that Mahdi Army militia forces feared by many residents simply went into hiding during the sweeps.

"The American forces were coming in the morning and breaking into the shops without taking permission of the shop owners. And they didn't find a single bullet," said the man, who would give only his first name, Mohammed.

"When they came to my shop, I was playing video games with my PlayStation. And one of the Americans asked if he could play with me. And we played together."

If residents have felt safer over the past few weeks, he said, it is because they have banded together on their own, erecting concrete barriers to keep out cars and prohibiting unknown vehicles from entering the neighborhood.

Yesterday, five people were killed and 11 were wounded by a car bomb and roadside bomb near the Communist Party headquarters in the Zayouna district of Baghdad; a bomb attached to a booby-trapped body exploded in the Dura district, injuring four police officers who came to investigate it. A booby-trapped motorcycle killed four civilians outside a Baghdad restaurant shortly before noon.

Clashes between men that authorities believe were members of the Mahdi Army and Sunni tribesmen killed three and wounded 10 in the Bayaa district of the capital. In the northern city of Kirkuk, three car bomb attacks killed two and wounded at least nine others. A roadside bomb killed five in the city of Baqouba. Several other bomb blasts, mostly in Baghdad, resulted in injuries but no deaths.

In another development, former president Hussein was ejected from the courtroom for a third straight day in his trial stemming from attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s.

The trial was adjourned until Oct. 9.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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