BAGHDAD, Iraq – More than a month after the beginning of a highly publicized security crackdown and the killing of militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the number of daily attacks in Baghdad has actually increased.
Iraqi and American forces began stepping up patrols, creating new checkpoints and conducting additional searches on June 14. But the initiative, called Operation Together Forward, has so far failed to limit the number of attacks in the capital city, according to statistics released by U.S. military forces Thursday.
In the 101 days before the security crackdown, an average of 23.8 attacks occurred daily. In the first 35 days of the operation, which began June 14, there was an average of 25.2 attacks a day.
The failure of the security crackdown to decrease the violence is yet another sign of the sectarian conflict that has buffeted this city. Continuing violence across Iraq prompted Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation’s highest-ranking Shiite cleric, to issue a rare public statement Thursday that urged Iraqis to stop attacks against civilians.
“I repeat my call today to all Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities to realize the extent of the danger threatening their country’s future and confront it side by side,” al-Sistani wrote.
In the statement, which included his personal signature and stamp, al-Sistani called on people targeting innocent civilians to stop setting off car bombs and carrying out executions and start talking with the elected government.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and U.S. military leaders have said their priority is securing Baghdad, increasing residents’ feelings of safety by eliminating sectarian militias, death squads and insurgent fighters.
Although the statistics released Thursday appeared grim, officials tried to put the best face on it. Major Gen. William Caldwell, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, said at a news conference Thursday that an upswing in sectarian violence in the last few days had driven the averages higher. In the first month of the operation, he said, the number of daily attacks was about the same as the previous 101 days, at 23.7 a day.
“While the last five days or so should not be an indicator of the Baghdad security plan overall, neither can they be brushed aside,” Caldwell said. “And again, we will do whatever it takes to bring down the level of violence here in Baghdad.”
The death of al-Zarqawi in June had led some to hope that the power of foreign militants to mount attacks in Iraq would diminish. Although the effectiveness of al-Zarqawi’s organization after his death has yet to be tested, it is clear much of the violence in Baghdad is unrelated to foreign militants. Most of the recent killing in Baghdad involves Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents trading attacks with Shiite death squads.
On Monday, the bodies of 32 Sunni Arab men were found in Baghdad, apparently the victim of Shiite death squads. Those killings were followed by a suicide bombing in a Shiite neighborhood of the southern town of Kufa that killed 57 day laborers.
The violence continued Thursday morning with a car bomb that killed three and injured 10 in downtown Baghdad. In the afternoon a second car bomb killed two people and injured seven others in the Shu’la neighborhood.
In Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near the government building in downtown Kirkuk, killing five and wounding 19.