News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqPM deploys soldiers to Baghdad streets

PM deploys soldiers to Baghdad streets


AP: Iraq’s prime minister launched the biggest security crackdown in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion, with tens of thousands of security forces deploying throughout the capital on Wednesday and increased checkpoints causing some traffic jams. Associated Press


Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister launched the biggest security crackdown in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion, with tens of thousands of security forces deploying throughout the capital on Wednesday and increased checkpoints causing some traffic jams.

An Iraqi army official, who declined to named because he was not authorized to release the information, said two divisions had been deployed in the capital, which would be about 20,000 soldiers, along with some 50,000 Interior Ministry forces.

There were more checkpoints and soldiers on the streets as Iraqis drove to work Wednesday morning, causing some traffic jams. There were fewer cars circulating throughout the city.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also announced plans Tuesday for an extended curfew and a weapons ban, saying he would show “no mercy” to terrorists six days after al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad. The government did not say how long the crackdown would last.

The announcement came as radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr planned a demonstration Wednesday in Baghdad to protest President Bush’s surprise visit to the capital.

Bush’s visit Tuesday was seen by many as a boost for al-Maliki, who is seeking to build momentum after al-Zarqawi’s death and the appointment of defense and interior ministers following weeks of political stalemate.

Al-Zarqawi’s successor, identified by the nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, vowed to defeat “crusaders and Shiites” in Iraq and said “holy warriors” in the country were stronger than ever, according to a Web statement posted Tuesday – the first from the new leader.

Underlining the threat, explosions struck oil-rich Kirkuk, killing at least 16 people. Kirkuk police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qader said the attacks in the city 180 miles north of Baghdad were believed to be “a reaction to avenge the killing of al-Zarqawi.”

Al-Qaida in Iraq has been increasingly focusing its attacks on Baghdad rather than on U.S. targets in western Iraq.

Security officials said 75,000 Iraqi and multinational forces would be deployed throughout Baghdad on Wednesday, securing roads in and out of the city, establishing more checkpoints, launching raids against insurgent hideouts and calling in airstrikes if necessary.

“Baghdad is divided according to geographical area, and we know the al-Qaida leaders in each area,” said Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharrawi, the commander of public order forces under the Interior Ministry.

The operation was the biggest of its kind in Baghdad since the U.S. handed over sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, al-Gharrawi said.

“The terrorists cannot face such power,” Iraqi army Brig. Jalil Khalaf said.

Al-Gharrawi warned that insurgents were likely to step up their attacks.

“We are expecting clashes will erupt in the predominantly Sunni areas,” he told The Associated Press. “The terrorists will escalate their violence especially during the first week as revenge for the killing of al-Zarqawi.”

Civilians have also complained of random violence and detentions by Iraqi forces, especially the police, which are widely believed to have been infiltrated by so-called sectarian death squads.

Al-Gharrawi said there were plans for a single uniform to distinguish legitimate forces in the coming days.

“There will be a special uniform with special badges to be put on the vehicles as a sign that it belongs to our forces,” he said.

Al-Maliki’s plan additionally includes banning personal weapons and implementing a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, which hitherto had begun at 11 p.m. The new curfew was expected to begin Friday.

Al-Maliki said in his news conference that the plan “will provide security and confront the terrorism and … enable Iraqis to live in peace in Baghdad.”

“The raids during this plan will be very tough … because there will be no mercy toward those who show no mercy to our people,” he said in a statement.

The Iraqi army launched a similar crackdown dubbed Operation Lightning in May 2005, deploying more than 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers, backed by American troops and air support. However, violence continued to spike and many Sunnis were alienated by the heavy-handed tactics concentrating on their neighborhoods.

The extended curfew is expected to curtail what few social activities Baghdad’s 6 million residents have left – including shopping and buying bread. But those activities were already restricted in many neighborhoods where the streets are not safe at night. People are very likely to shoot strangers on sight after dark, which begins about 9 p.m.

The attacks in Kirkuk began at 7:45 a.m. when a parked car containing a bomb exploded near a police patrol in the city center, killing 10 people, including two policemen, Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said. Nine people were wounded.

Some 30 minutes later, guards fired on a suspected suicide car bomber trying to pass through a checkpoint at the Kirkuk police directorate. The car exploded, killing five people, including two policemen, and wounding six, Qadir said.

Another suspected suicide car bomber in Kirkuk tried to hit a Kurdish political office at 8:30 a.m., but guards opened fire on that car, and it exploded, police Col. Taieb Taha said. Three civilians were wounded.

A suicide car bomber targeted a police patrol south of Kirkuk more than an hour later near an institute for the disabled. The explosion killed a driver nearby and wounded six, Qadir said.

At least 26 other violent deaths were reported Tuesday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed said 761 attacks killed 263 civilians and wounded 301 others last week, from Friday to Saturday, while 78 terror suspects were killed and 584 detained.

So far in 2006, at least 3,829 Iraqi civilians and at least 754 Iraqi security forces have been killed in war-related violence. For the same time period, at least 4,577 Iraqi civilians and at least 749 Iraqi security forces have been wounded. These figures are based on AP reports, which may not be complete because the reporting process does not cover the entire country. These numbers do not include insurgents.

There have been at least 335 coalition troop deaths in 2006; of these at least 312 have been U.S. military.

The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is considered a greater threat to Mideast stability than the current government in Iran, according to a new poll of European and Muslim countries.

The poll found that people in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Russia rated the presence of troops in Iraq higher than the government in Iran as a threat, according to polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Views of U.S. troops in Iraq were even more negative in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan.

Associated Press writers Kim Gamel, Patrick Quinn, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qais al-Bashir contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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