Once-peaceful areas of Iraq struck again
BAGHDAD – Missiles and mortars struck areas of Baghdad and central Iraq on Saturday where violence and civilian deaths had decreased in recent weeks, raising concerns that insurgents were adapting their strategy to get around an increase in U.S. troops.
At least 14 Iraqis were killed, including seven in a mortar barrage aimed at a Shiite residential area north of Baghdad in the town of Khalis. Car bombs killed four people in Kirkuk, where a policeman was shot to death earlier in the day, and two were killed in a missile attack on a farming village near Ramadi.
The Ramadi attack unleashed panic in an area that had been relatively peaceful in recent weeks, said Juma Salim, a 62-year-old farmer.
Kirkuk has suffered a rash of attacks since insurgents began fleeing the U.S.-led crackdown in Baghdad. Gunmen there killed an Iraqi police lieutenant, and three apparently coordinated car bombs killed four shoppers in a marketplace, including a 4-year-old. Forty-six people were injured.
The attacks spurred further sweeps against suspected insurgent hide-outs in which U.S.-led troops killed two and detained 16, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq.
American officials say they have captured dozens of key insurgents and disrupted their operations in campaigns launched in the last two months as the increase in U.S. troops has allowed more concerted moves against hot spots such as Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the west and south.
But as violence in those areas has eased, car bombs and small-arms fire increasingly have been directed against Iraqis in more distant areas. On Thursday, synchronized truck bombings in three far northern villages killed as many as 400 people of the minority Yazidi sect in the deadliest attack on civilians in the Iraq conflict. The Bush administration maintains that security is improving.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush cited Anbar province, whose capital is Ramadi, as a place where the U.S.-backed Iraqi government is gaining control over a former insurgent stronghold.
“Residents began to provide critical intelligence, and tribesmen joined the Iraqi police and security forces,” the president said, reiterating the view of U.S. military officials here that the troop buildup to nearly 160,000 is giving Iraqis courage to break ranks with insurgents.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also says that Sunni tribal leaders have begun collaborating with the government and police to restore order in their communities.
“These are all the fruits of the reconciliation process,” the Shiite prime minister said after a visit to Sunni leaders in Tikrit, which was Saddam Hussein’s power base.