America’s two top generals in the Middle East said Thursday a security operation in Baghdad was helping curb violence after a surge of bombings and shootings there in recent months.
But the bloodshed persisted with three car bombs in Baghdad and a series of bombings and shootings across the country killing at least 16 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers on Thursday. Another U.S. soldier was killed the previous day, the military said.
U.S. authorities claim a joint American-Iraqi operation that began in early August has improved security. The U.S. military has said the operation, for which 12,000 troops were redeployed to Baghdad, aims to curb mostly sectarian warfare.
“I believe there is a danger of civil war in Iraq, but only a danger,” Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said after meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “I think Iraq’s far from it. I think that there’s been great progress in the security front here recently in Baghdad.”
Abizaid said he and Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, were “very optimistic that the situation will stabilize.”
Casey also said the security operation was working.
“I think everybody has seen an improvement in the situation in Baghdad over the last weeks because of the operations of the Iraqi security forces supported by the American Army,” he said. “And we’re confident that we can sustain that.”
AP count points to downward trend
Although accurate casualty figures are not available and statistics have not been provided for violent deaths in August, an Associated Press count indicates a downward trend. Reported deaths, however, are thought to be considerably lower than the actual number of people killed.
With one week remaining in August, the estimated number of Iraqis killed around the country was at least 605, according to an AP count. That number was about 60 percent of the estimated AP total of at least 1,015 killed for all of July.
But the government’s count for July was far higher at 3,500, including 1,500 in Baghdad alone.
Political and sectarian violence across Iraq increased after a Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad. Most of the violence has been sectarian, often involving death squads from the majority Shiites or minority Sunni Arabs.
“I think there’s a large number of civilians that have been killed by various death squads. Certain militia groups have been responding in a way that’s not in connection with the national government, and that situation is clearly not one that’s good for Iraq,” Abizaid said.
He said the United States and its coalition partners wanted Iraqis to take control of security.
Iraqi forces to control Nasiriyah
As part of that takeover, Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces would take over security responsibilities from Italian troops next month in the southern city of Nasiriyah. That did not necessarily mean that Italian troops would immediately begin withdrawing from Iraq.
A spokesman for Defense Minister Arturo Parisi in Rome declined to say whether the Italians were withdrawing completely next month or merely handing over some of their authority.
Italy has about 1,600 troops in the country, mostly in Nasiriyah, and that force is expected to be withdrawn by year’s end.
Al-Maliki has said his national unity government plans to gradually take over security for all of Iraq’s provinces within the next 18 months.
America’s overall strategy calls for U.S. and international forces to gradually hand over security control for specific regions and redeploy to larger bases. Those bases can act in a support or reserve role. A final future stage would involve the drawdown of troops from those bases.
British troops on Thursday pulled out of a base in southern Iraq that had come under frequent attack, and planned to reposition their forces along the area bordering Iran to crack down on smuggling.
Camp Abu Naji in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, was turned over to Iraqi authorities, Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a spokesman for British forces, said from Basra. The camp in Maysan province, which had housed about 1,200 troops, had been frequently targeted by militants over the past three years.
2 U.S. soldiers killed
In violence around Iraq, two U.S. soldiers were killed, one in a roadside explosion south of Baghdad and the other after gunmen attacked his patrol with small arms fire, the U.S. military said.
On Wednesday, another American soldier died in fighting south of Baghdad in a raid to capture “foreign terrorists,” the U.S. military command said.
In Baghdad’s eastern neighborhood of Mashtal, a suspected suicide car bomb killed at least two people and wounded nine, police said. A bomb inside a parked car exploded in the capital’s Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, killing two civilians and injuring four, while another car bomb exploded in Baghdad’s Zeyouna neighborhood, wounding five policemen, police said.
In other attacks, according to Iraqi security forces:
- Three Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad.
- In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, a bomb in a minivan killed three policemen.
- A police officer was killed and four others were wounded by a roadside bomb in Jirf al-Melih, south of Baqouba.
- In Baghdad’s Azamiyah district, a policeman was killed and another was wounded when gunmen opened fire on their patrol.
- Gunmen shot and killed the mother and brother of the owner of a clothing store in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood in a drive-by shooting. The owner was wounded.
- In northern Mosul, two civilians were killed in a drive-by shooting.