BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Baghdad security operation has been under way less than three weeks, but it has already registered a success: a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the streets – victims of sectarian death squads.
The number of bodies found so far this month in Baghdad – most of them shot and showing signs of torture – has dropped by nearly 50 percent to 494 as of Monday night, compared with 954 in January and 1,222 in December, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press.
Since the crackdown was formally launched Feb. 14, a total of 164 bodies had been found in the capital as of Monday, according to AP figures, which are compiled from police reports. The AP count showed 390 bodies were discovered in the same period in January.
“The intensive security measures have forced the gunmen to leave Baghdad and quit throwing bodies in the streets,” said Kamil Abdul-Nour, a 42-year-old Sunni teacher. “Still, I am afraid that this phenomenon will appear again if the security measures end,” he said.
The U.S. military has boosted the number of U.S. troops working with the police – and Mahdi Army chief Muqtada al-Sadr pulled many of his fighters off the streets under pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his political ally.
U.S. commanders have also said Sunni and Shiite extremists were shifting from the capital to surrounding provinces such as Diyala.
All that may have also led to a drop in the execution-style killings.
Bombings and other violence continue in the capital despite the crackdown; on Tuesday three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on the southwestern outskirts of the city.
The Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, was slightly injured in a blast Monday that killed at least 10 people. And on Sunday, 41 people died when a suicide bomber blew herself up at a mostly Shiite college in eastern Baghdad.
Nevertheless, execution-style killings are clearly down, although U.S. officers caution against concluding that the death squads are out of business permanently.
“We have seen a decrease in the past three weeks – a pretty radical decrease,” Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters Tuesday.
“I’m not willing to draw any conclusions yet though, because it’s only (been) three weeks” and “we have had short periods of time before when there’s been some success and then it changes,” he said.
Officials of the Shiite-led government have touted the declining body count as a sign that the security operation is already a success. Two days into the operation, Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi proudly announced that only 10 bodies were in the Baghdad morgue – down from an average of 40-50 per day.
“This shows a big reduction in terror and killing operations in Baghdad,” he said.