Joint security crackdown working in Iraq, officials say

March 01, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen | Christian Berthelsen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. and Iraqi officials announced yesterday what they said were tangible signs that the joint security crackdown launched more than two weeks ago is working - even as car bombs, mortar attacks and shootings continued to claim lives.

In separate declarations, representatives of the U.S. and Iraqi security forces said they had killed dozens of militants, captured hundreds and seized large caches of weapons since the crackdown began Feb. 13.

The announcements came as many Iraqis have begun expressing frustration with the security push. Daily attacks have continued in their neighborhoods, they say, even as they have put up with repeated raids, house-to-house searches and vehicle stops by government forces.

Observers said last night that the initial effort has been moderately successful, at least in reducing the number of executions by sectarian death squads, and that many Iraqis have been reassured by the presence of security forces on the streets. But they said more must be done to stop attacks.

"Checkpoints can intercept armed groups," said Adnan Ubaidi, editor of al-Istiqama, a newspaper published by the leading Shiite bloc in parliament. "But they cannot intercept or stop car bombs, because car bombs are looking for checkpoints. Checkpoints and patrols cannot stop more terror rounds being launched from kilometers away."

Sunni Arabs agreed that the security efforts appear to have reduced execution-style killings, but some questioned whether that was because the killers had temporarily melted away rather than confront security forces. They said pressure was being applied to their sect unequally and that innocents were being caught up in dragnets.

"Unfortunately, even in Sunni areas there are terrorists that we are complaining about, and we think they might have escaped," said Ammar Wajeh, a member of a Sunni bloc in parliament. "Now they're arresting young men in the neighborhoods who were originally not involved."

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, speaking at a news conference, said there has been "a noticeable decrease" in attacks. "We are sensing that the trust of the people has started increasing with the Iraqi forces, and they are cooperating better now," he said.

Still, a car bomb at a market in the mixed south Baghdad neighborhood of Baiyaa killed 10 people and injured 21 yesterday.

In downtown Baghdad, two police were killed and four hurt in a gunbattle after a suicide bomber tried to drive a pickup truck loaded with propane tanks into a police station. Five civilians were killed in south Baghdad by mortars and roadside bombs.

Outside the capital, insurgents continued attacks on police and military installations, striking a security checkpoint near Hillah with mortar rounds that critically wounded two police officers.

Government officials say the security effort in Baghdad and Anbar province is in its early stages and will need time to show results, but the twin announcements appeared to be timed to address concerns that not enough is being done.

Al-Mousawi said officials were installing further security precautions, including no parking along main streets and 24-hour hot lines to which to report suspicious activity. He said the government soon would receive sonar imaging equipment that would help in detection of car bombs.

Christian Berthelsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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