Fewer roadside bombs in Iraq, general says

November 16, 2007|By New York Times News Service

BAGHDAD -- A U.S. military official reported yesterday a sharp decrease in the number of roadside bombs and other homemade explosive devices in Iraq. The official, Maj. Gen. James Simmons, said that Iran, which American officials contend is the source of the deadliest of those weapons, appears to be abiding by a reported commitment to halt their flow into Iraq.

Simmons said 1,560 improvised explosive devices directed at coalition forces or Iraqis across the country were identified in October, after a steady monthly decline, from the high point in March, when 3,239 were discovered. Half of the bombs recorded for October were found before they detonated.

"We have found weapons that we believe are associated with Iran in some of the caches we have picked up," said Simmons, deputy commander of the Multi-National Corps Iraq. "But most of these weapons appear to have been in Iraq for months, so we have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq. We believe the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up."

This month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Iran had given assurances to the Iraqi government that it would stem the flow of formed penetrators, the most deadly form of roadside bombs, across the frontier. However, Iran has consistently denied sending such weapons into Iraq and has challenged previous claims by the U.S. military that it did so.

Simmons said the number of attacks using improvised explosive devices had declined in all areas, but conceded that 1,560 was still a "significant number," comparable with the level of attacks in September 2005.

He said most such attacks are now in northern Iraq. There have been indications that al-Qaida in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni extremist group that U.S. intelligence agencies say is foreign-led, has shifted some of its activities out of Baghdad and Anbar province, where they have been challenged by American and Iraqi forces and the Awakening movement of Sunni tribes.

He said the main perpetrators were elements of the insurgent group and criminal groups formerly associated with the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia affiliated with the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Simmons declined to give a breakdown of the number of attacks in the northern belt, from Taji to Mosul.

"The fighting in Anbar and the success in Baghdad [have] forced these terrorists out of those areas and into that battle space, and they take their preferred method of killing people with them whenever they are pushed into other areas of Iraq," Simmons said.

In Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed six people yesterday when he rammed his vehicle into a police convoy. Police said that the dead included three schoolchildren and that the apparent target, Gen. Khattab Abdullah Aref, who has led the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq, was seriously wounded.

One American soldier was killed and four wounded by an explosion Wednesday in Diyala province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said yesterday.

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