Frustration growing over violence in Iraq

Civilians a target

conflicting reports on blast in Ramadi

February 28, 2007|By Tina Susman | Tina Susman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two weeks after a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown was launched, bombers struck popular gathering spots that included an ice cream parlor and a kebab shop yesterday, killing at least eight people.

Police in the capital also found the bodies of 31 men who had been shot, apparent victims of Shiite death squads. The U.S. military reported the deaths of five American soldiers.

Frustration in Baghdad over the continuing bloodshed was accompanied by a sense of confusion over an afternoon incident in Ramadi, where officials said a bomb at a soccer field killed 18 children.

The reports, which could not be independently verified, led to angry statements by officials. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced the "crime against children in their innocent playgrounds" and blamed "criminal gangs."

However, other reports raised questions over whether anyone had been killed yesterday in the Sunni-dominated city.

The U.S. military said it set off a controlled explosion in Ramadi in the afternoon that went awry, sending shrapnel flying and injuring 31 people, including children. None of the injuries was life-threatening, said Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, a military spokeswoman.

"I know there are reports children were killed out there. Those are incorrect," Aberle said, adding that the military had no reports of any other blasts in Ramadi.

Attacks continue relentlessly across Iraq despite the launching of the new security plan, with the deadliest striking civilian targets and bearing the hallmark of Sunni insurgents.

In Mosul, north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded outside a police station, killing six police officers. In Khaldiya, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, a mortar attack in a market killed eight people.

In the past week, bombers have hit a college campus, a Sunni mosque whose imam had spoken out against the insurgency and a government building where the Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, was to speak.

The vice president escaped with minor injuries Monday, but the attacks, in addition to the bombings yesterday, left some Iraqis despairing of the government's ability to provide security.

Iraqi officials are portraying the bloodshed as a last gasp by militants trying to derail the plan, which aims to put thousands more troops on the streets of Baghdad and in neighboring Anbar province.

"It is expected that they would try to intensify their activities to abort the plan and make people say the plan is a failure," said Sami Askari, a Shiite lawmaker, who blamed the violence on Sunni radicals. "It is unrealistic to achieve a goal like controlling Baghdad over a short period. The terrorist groups will try with all their arsenal of weapons and explosives to make the plan fail."

Such words were no comfort to Iraqis caught in the bloodshed.

"Every place is becoming dangerous," said Muaataz Jawad, a Shiite student who survived a bombing Sunday at his university and who worked with the Iraqi commission that helped organize national elections in 2005.

"It was dangerous and we were the target of snipers, but I was enthusiastic at that time. I regret it now," he said of his election work. "I am not seeing any achievements, only traffic jams and more explosions."

Haidar Muhamed, a Shiite shopkeeper who works near the scene of one of yesterday's attacks in Baghdad, was not as pessimistic but said he did not expect to see much change soon.

"I still have faith in the government, but many times they give promises that they cannot fulfill," he said. "The plan has some deficiencies, but I think it will succeed eventually."

The security operation appears to be showing some results in a sharp drop in the number of bodies found in the streets - victims of sectarian death squads.

The number of bodies found this month in Baghdad - most of them shot and showing signs of torture - has dropped by nearly 50 percent, to 494 as of Monday night, compared with 954 in January and 1,222 in December, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press.

Since the crackdown was launched Feb. 14, 164 bodies had been found in the capital as of Monday, according to AP figures, which are compiled from police reports. The AP count showed 390 bodies were found in the same period in January.

"The intensive security measures have forced the gunmen to leave Baghdad and quit throwing bodies in the streets," said Kamil Abdul-Nour, 42, a Sunni teacher. "Still, I am afraid that this phenomenon will appear again if the security measures end."

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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