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Drop in Baghdad toll encourages Iraqis

Published March 15, 2007


BAGHDAD - Bomb deaths have gone down 30 percent in Baghdad since the U.S.-led security crackdown began a month ago. Execution-style slayings are down by nearly half.

The once frequent sound of weapons has been reduced to episodic, and downtown shoppers have returned to outdoor markets - favored targets of car bombers.

There are signs of progress in the campaign to restore order in Iraq, starting with its capital city.

But while many Iraqis are encouraged, they remain skeptical how long the relative calm will last. Each bombing renews fears that the horror is returning. Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are still around, perhaps just lying low or hiding outside the city until the operation is over.

U.S. military officials, burned before by overly optimistic forecasts, have been cautious about declaring the operation a success.

Another reason it seems premature: only two of the five U.S. brigades earmarked for the mission are in the streets, and the full complement of American reinforcements is not due until late May.

U.S. officials say that key to the operation's long-term success is the willingness of Iraq's sectarian and ethnic political parties to strike a power- and money-sharing deal.

"I would caution everybody about patience, about diligence," U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William C. Caldwell said Wednesday. "This is going to take many months, not weeks, but the indicators are all very positive right now."

Fast Facts:

Also in Iraq

Quarterly Pentagon report: The U.S. military for the first time Wednesday said in a new report that some of the violence in Iraq can be described as a civil war, "including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence and population displacements." In its bleakest assessment of the war to date, the quarterly Pentagon report said that last October through December was the most violent three-month period since 2003. Most of the data in the report are from before President Bush ordered an additional 21,500 troops and thousands of support personnel to Baghdad to deal with the escalating violence.

Violence: At least 39 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide Wednesday. Police said 16 of the dead were executed in Baghdad. The U.S. military reported that three U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday by bombs or gunfire in Diyala province and a Marine died Tuesday during combat in Anbar province.

Iraqi president returns: Thousands of Kurds in Sulaimaniyah on Wednesday welcomed home Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla leader, from 17 days of medical treatment in Jordan. Doctors said the 73-year-old suffered from exhaustion and dehydration caused by lung and sinus infections. Talabani, who seemed weakened Wednesday and appeared to have lost a few pounds, said he would return to work this week.

Hussein sons exhumed: The bodies of Saddam Hussein's sons and a grandson were exhumed and reburied Tuesday near the ousted leader's grave in Ouja, his hometown north of Baghdad. Tribal officials said they decided to move the remains of Hussein's sons Odai, 39, and Qusai, 37, and his 14-year-old grandson, Mustafa - who died July 22, 2003, in a gunbattle with U.S. troops - to keep all members of the family in one place.

Soldier trial: Staff Sgt. Ray Girouard, 24, called members of his squad into a meeting near Samarra in May and said three Iraqi detainees were going to be shot after they were freed, Pfc. Juston Graber testified Wednesday in Kentucky. Girouard said Spc. William Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey Clagett were going to shoot the men, but other soldiers had the option to take part or leave, Graber said.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 02:31:26]

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