A new plan for Baghdad?

Crackdown failing to curb violence, U.S. military says

October 20, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq acknowledged yesterday that a security crackdown by American and Iraqi forces had failed to reduce violence in the Iraqi capital, and called the results "disheartening."

With attacks in Baghdad having increased by 22 percent during the past three weeks, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV indicated that military planners might have to go back to the drawing board.

"We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city," Caldwell said. "We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today, or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification to that plan needs to be made."

Despite the joint operation, which was launched in June, sectarian violence between Sunni Arabs and Shiites continues unabated, Caldwell said, and insurgents are increasingly targeting American troops. He said rebels have timed the surge in attacks to influence U.S. midterm elections, in which American casualties and the Iraq conflict are key issues.

Caldwell said at least 73 U.S. troops have been killed this month, putting October on track to be the bloodiest month for American forces since the battle of Fallujah in 2004.

The U.S. military announced the death of a Marine yesterday and of two American soldiers the previous day. Ten American troops were killed Tuesday.

Yesterday, seven suicide attackers struck across northern Iraq, targeting American and Iraqi troops as well as civilians. The attacks killed at least 20 Iraqis and wounded 80. Elsewhere, at least 16 Iraqis died in attacks.

Most of the U.S. deaths this month have taken place in the capital, where troops had stepped up patrols as part of the Baghdad security crackdown aimed at reducing sectarian killings.

In August, Gen. George W. Casey ordered the extended deployment of about 4,000 troops from the 172nd Stryker Brigade, moving a total of about 12,000 additional Iraqi and American troops into the streets of the capital as part of the plan to conduct house-to-house searches and disarm Sunni Arab insurgents and Shiite militias.

That month, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the offensive would "go a long ways toward determining the future of Iraq and the future of the Middle East."

He added that "the United States cannot achieve its goals of a democratic, stable and secure Iraq if the unacceptable levels of violence that we had in Baghdad in recent months continue."

Despite the arrival of thousands of heavily armed American troops, the bloodshed has continued unabated. Thousands of bodies have been found in central Baghdad, with most of the victims having been executed and bearing signs of torture.

Iraq's Health Ministry reported that in September alone, more than 2,660 civilians were killed in Baghdad.

In Dora, one of the first neighborhoods that American commanders declared "cleared" as part of the crackdown, rebels detonated at least one bomb targeting police yesterday, while elsewhere in the largely Sunni neighborhood, gunmen battled officers in an attack on a police station, killing four.

Despite the security sweep, attacks in Dora increased from an average of 3.8 per day during the summer to 6.5 per day between Sept. 24 and Oct. 10, according to the U.S. military. This week, Caldwell said, American troops have returned to Dora to try to restore order.

Part of the problem with the security operation is that it has focused on disarming Sunni neighborhoods west of the Tigris River while ignoring Shiite areas to the east. Going into Shiite neighborhoods has been politically sensitive.

Privately, American officers say Shiite militias - some affiliated with Iraqi government security forces - are responsible for most of the attacks against U.S. troops as well as on Sunni civilians. But commanders often find themselves stymied when going after Shiite militias, especially those affiliated with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc controls 30 seats in parliament.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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