|Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No.2 U.S. military official in Iraq, briefs reporters on the Baghdad security plan in Baghdad, Iraq Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)|
Sectarian executions drop in Baghdad
BAGHDAD, Iraq --Execution-style killings have fallen sharply in Baghdad since the security crackdown began this month, the No. 2 U.S. commander said Tuesday. Figures compiled by The Associated Press from police reports show that the number of bullet-ridden bodies found in the streets of Baghdad this month total 494 as of Monday night. That was down from the 954 in January and 1,222 in December. Such killings have generally been attributed to sectarian death squads -- including Shiite militiamen, Sunni insurgents or rogue elements within the mostly Shiite army and police.
The security crackdown officially began Feb. 14, although some U.S. and Iraqi units had been stepping up patrols and searches since earlier in the month.
"We have seen a decrease in the past three weeks -- a pretty radical decrease," Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters. "I'm not willing to draw any conclusions yet though because it's only (been) three weeks."
Odierno, the operational commander for U.S. forces in Iraq, suggested the drop could be due to more security forces on the streets but added it may be only temporary.
"We have had short periods of time before when there's been some success and then it changes," he said.
Many of the killings were believed to be the work of the Mahdi Army, led by the anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The cleric is a political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who pressured him to pull his fighters off the streets to avoid a confrontation with the Americans.
In Iraq as a whole, the AP figures show the number of people found dead totaled 628 as of Monday night. That was down from 1,079 in January and 1,379 in December.
Although sectarian assassinations are down, the capital has been hit by a series of deadly bombings that have killed scores of people. Most target Shiite civilians and appear to be part of the sectarian violence.
The Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, was slightly injured in a blast Monday that killed at least 10 people.
A female suicide bomber triggered a ball bearing-packed charge Sunday, killing at least 41 people at a mostly Shiite college in eastern Baghdad.
Many Shiites have complained that the Mahdi Army's absence has left them vulnerable to such attacks by Sunni extremists.
On Sunday, al-Sadr criticized the security plan, saying that "car bombs continue to explode" despite the "security plan controlled by an occupier."
It was unclear whether that was meant as a threat to return his fighters to the streets if the U.S. and Iraqi troops cannot bring a halt to the bombings.