Rocket and mortar attacks in Iraq have decreased to their lowest levels in more than 21 months, the U.S. military said Monday. In the capital, Iraqi officials said a taxi driver was shot dead by a private security guard hired to protect U.S. convoys.
Last month saw 369 “indirect fire” attacks — the lowest number since February 2006. October’s total was half of what it was in the same month a year ago. And it marked the third month in a row of sharply reduced insurgent activity, the military said.
The U.S. command issued the tallies a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said suicide attacks and other bombings in Baghdad also have dropped dramatically, calling it an end of sectarian violence.
Despite the drop in violence, the capital remains tense and al-Maliki and other Iraqi and foreign officials are under heavy protection.
Embassy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said the company involved in Saturday’s shooting was DynCorp International, one of three firms contracted to protect American officials in Iraq.
Reeker could not confirm anyone had died, and he would not say who the seven-vehicle convoy was carrying nor give its destination.
“They reported that a private vehicle approached the convoy, and continued to approach to the point where a member of the PSD used his weapon to disable the vehicle,” Reeker told reporters on a regular conference call from Baghdad, using the acronym for private security detail.
Iraqis have grown increasingly angry at what they believe are unprovoked killings by contractors hired to protect Americans here. In September, another shooting left 17 Iraqis dead and prompted the Iraqi government to call for the expulsion of the firm involved, Blackwater Worldwide.
Reportedly shot in head, chest
The taxi driver was shot in the head and chest, the police officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf also said the man had died.
Afterward, police searched the man’s taxi and found no weapons nor any other evidence of suspicious activity, the officer said. The convoy did not stop for the investigation, he said.
Total rocket and mortar attacks rose steadily from 808 in January 2007 to a peak of 1,032 in June, before falling over the next four months, a U.S. military statement said Monday. That decline also was seen in Baghdad, where such attacks rose from 139 in January to 224 in June, and then fell to only 53 attacks in October, it said.
The Iraqi spokesman for a U.S.-Iraqi push to pacify the capital said the decline in violence would allow the government to reopen 10 roads later this month.
“This will help reduce traffic jams and citizens will feel life returning to normal,” Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told Iraqi state television.
Associated Press figures show a sharp drop in the number of U.S. and Iraqi deaths across the country in the past few months. The number of Iraqis who met violent deaths dropped from at least 1,023 in September to at least 905 in October, according to an AP count.
The number of American military deaths fell from 65 to at least 39 over the same period.
Sounds of progress
Before the arrival of nearly 30,000 U.S. reinforcements this past spring, explosions shook Baghdad daily — sometimes hourly. Mortar and rocket fire were frequent as was the rhythm of gunfire.
Now the sounds of warfare are rare. American troops have set up small outposts in some of the capital’s most dangerous enclaves. Locals previously lukewarm to the presence of U.S. soldiers patrol alongside them. And a historic lane on the eastern banks of the Tigris is set to reopen later this year, lined with seafood restaurants and an art gallery.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces south of the capital, said Sunday he believed the decrease would hold, because of what he called a “groundswell” of support from regular Iraqis.
“If we didn’t have so many people coming forward to help, I’d think this is a flash in the pan. But that’s just not the case,” Lynch told a small group of reporters over lunch in the Green Zone.
He attributed the sharp drop in attacks to the American troop buildup, the setup of small outposts at the heart of Iraqi communities, and help from thousands of locals fed up with al-Qaida and other extremists.
“These people — Sunni and Shiite — are saying, ‘I’ve had enough,”’ Lynch said.