BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. and Iraqi officials announced Wednesday what they said were tangible signs that the latest joint security crackdown launched here more than two weeks ago is working – even as car bombs, mortar attacks and shootings continued to claim lives.
In separate declarations, representatives of the U.S. and Iraqi security forces said they had killed dozens of militants, captured hundreds and seized large caches of weaponry since the crackdown began Feb. 13.
The announcements came as many Iraqis have expressed frustration with the nascent security push. Multiple daily attacks have continued in their neighborhoods, they say, even as they have put up with repeated raids, house-to-house searches and vehicle stops by government security forces.
Observers interviewed Wednesday night agreed the initial effort has been moderately successful, at least in reducing the number of sectarian death-squad executions, and that many Iraqis have been reassured by the heavy street presence of security forces. But they said more needed to be done to stop bombing attacks.
“Checkpoints can intercept armed groups,” said Adnan Ubaidi, the editor of al-Istiqama, a newspaper published by the leading Shiite voting bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. “But they cannot intercept or stop car bombs, because car bombs are looking for checkpoints. Checkpoints and patrols cannot stop more terror rounds being launched from kilometers far away.”
Sunni Arabs agreed that the security efforts appear to have reduced execution-style killings, but some questioned whether that was because the killers had temporarily melted away rather than confronting security forces. They also said pressure was being applied to their sect unequally and that innocents were wrongly being caught up in dragnets.
“Unfortunately, even in Sunni areas there are terrorists that we are complaining about, and we think they might have escaped,” said Ammar Wajeh, a member of a Sunni bloc in Parliament. “Now they’re arresting young men in the neighborhoods who were originally not involved.”
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, speaking at a news conference to assess results of the crackdown, said there has been “a noticeable decrease” in attacks. “We are sensing that the trust of the people has started increasing with the Iraqi forces and they are cooperating better now,” al-Mousawi said.
Still, a car bomb at a wholesale market in the mixed south Baghdad neighborhood of Baiyaa killed 10 people and injured 21 others Wednesday.
Government officials say the security effort in Baghdad and Anbar province is in its early stages and will need time to show tangible results, but the twin announcements appeared to be timed to address concerns that not enough is being done.
“This will not be a days or weeks type of operation. It will be months,” said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a spokesman for the U.S.-led forces.