BAGHDAD (AP) â€” The US military on Thursday said sectarian killings had spiked in areas of Baghdad not included in a security sweep, with police reporting more than a dozen killings in the capital â€” including four American soldiers â€” and 20 new bodies dumped on the streets.
The US command said a suicide bomber in a vehicle killed two US soldiers and wounded 25 others west of Baghdad. In separate incidents the first soldier died from wounds in the early morning hours after his unit came under attack by small arms, while the second was killed after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. Military officials also reported Thursday that a US soldier died Wednesday from enemy fire in the northern city of Mosul.
The Baghdad killings and a car bombing at dusk that killed six Iraqis at a soccer field in the city of Fallujah brought the countrywide total to at least 28.
One of the few positive developments for the US-led coalition and the national unity government was the killing of one senior member of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the arrest of another.
Shiite politicians said they had finally managed to round up some support among dissenting parties as they strove to try break deadlock over a draft bill to establish autonomous regions as part of a federal Iraq.
Sunni Arabs vehemently oppose the bill, which could be submitted to parliament next week, and fear it could split the country into three distinct sectarian and ethnic cantons.
Violence has intensified over the past two days with more than 140 people either being killed in attacks or found dumped in the streets of Baghdad.
“There was a spike in violence in Baghdad over the past 24 hours from murder-executions,” Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said. “Most of those are associated with sectarian violence, not all necessarily but a large portion.” But he said the violence had intensified in areas that have not yet been included in “Operation Together Forward,” which was launched on Aug. 7 with the participation of 12,000 US and Iraqi troops.
“The terrorists and death squads are clearly targeting civilians outside of the focus areas,” Caldwell said.
In those focus areas, Caldwell said US and Iraqi forces had cleared more than 52,000 buildings, found 32 weapon caches, detained 91 people and seized more than 1,200 weapons.
“Overall, as part of the Baghdad security plan, we have seen a sustained reduction of level in the violence of attacks and murders in the focus areas,” he said.
“However, at Baghdad at large, the number of execution-style murders, we have seen a creeping back up.
And yesterday, as I think most of us realised, there was a spike in those numbers.” Still, in Washington, the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “there is a lot of progress being made” to stabilise the Baghdad area and towards the US goal of turning over security in much of the country to Iraqi forces by the end of the year.
As for Al Qaeda operations in the country, McCormak said “Al Qaeda clearly has an interest in fomenting sectarian violence in Iraq.” Also Thursday, the interior ministry said Abu Jaafar Liby, who was either the second or third most important figure in Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by police during an operation three days ago.
Four other insurgents were killed and two were arrested in the raid, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf told the Associated Press.
Liby had been in charge of the Baghdad sector of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Khalaf said. He said two letters were found on his body â€” one for Al Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden and the other for Abu Ayyoub Masri.
Also known as Abu Hamza Muhajer, he took over Al Qaeda in Iraq from Abu Mussab Zarqawi after he was killed in a US air strike north of Baghdad on June 7. Both letters pledged loyalty and promised more attacks. US officials say they believe he is an Egyptian known as Abu Ayyoub Masri, an explosives expert who trained with Zarqawi in Ben Laden’s camps in Afghanistan. Caldwell said US military forces also arrested a senior Al Qaeda figure and personal associate of the group’s new leader. He was arrested along with 70 others on September 12 in a series of 12 raids.
The man, who was not identified, was arrestedÂ Â Â September 12 and led assassination, kidnapping and bomb-making cells in Baghdad, Caldwell said.
He also played a key role in Al Qaeda’s activities in Fallujah before it was attacked by US troops in November 2004, Caldwell added.
“Intelligence reports indicate he is proficient with small arms weapons and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), familiar with the production of car bombs, and that he often likes to detonate the IEDs himself,” said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. “This terrorist’s capture is a significant blow to Al Qaeda, and another step toward defeating terrorism in Iraq.” On the federalism issue, members of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance said they had made some headway in convincing other party leaders to support the proposed legislation.
Alliance leaders sent delegations to the Shiite Holy City of Najaf to meet radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Yaqoubi, spiritual leader of the Fadhila party.
“The stance of the alliance is united and based on the constitution and if there are differences, then they are about the timing. All groups in the alliance have adopted the principle of dialogue regarding in any issue,” Shiite legislator Khalid Atiya said. “We have gained the support of Yaqoubi regarding federalism.” But timing is everything and it could torpedo the alliance efforts. Sadr, for example, wants the legislation to be discussed after US troops leave Iraq.