BAGHDAD, Iraq – Violence raked the capital Monday as the general who will lead Iraqi forces in the coming security crackdown in Baghdad took charge and a senior U.S. military official said the much-vaunted joint operation with American forces to curb sectarian bloodshed would start “very soon thereafter.”
At least 27 people were killed Monday in bomb and mortar attacks.
Elsewhere, two key members of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political and military organization were killed as the top ranks of the organization continue to come under attack from both Sunni insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces.
With the major security push in Baghdad believed to be just days, perhaps hours away, the U.S. military confirmed that Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, whose choice to lead the operation was reported by The Associated Press nearly a month ago, would lead the operation in Baghdad.
He was named to the top position under pressure from the United States military, which rejected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s first choice â€” Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Freiji.
Gambar will have two Iraqi deputies, one on each side of the Tigris River that splits Baghdad north to south. The city was to be divided into nine districts, and there were to be as many as 600 U.S. forces in each district to back up Iraqi troops who will take the lead in the security drive.
The coming security drive, for which President Bush has dispatched 21,500 additional American forces, was seen as a last-chance effort to quell the sectarian violence ravaging the capital and surrounding regions.
It will be the third attempt to restore calm since al-Maliki took office nearly nine months ago.
On Monday, a bomb placed in a garbage bin killed at least eight people and wounded 18 in a central Baghdad neighborhood shortly after noon, police said. Within minutes, two other car bombs blew up in quick succession in the south of the city, killing at least 15 and wounding 60.
Two other people were killed in the capital when a mortar round slammed into a second central Baghdad neighborhood and a bomb hidden in trash exploded on the city’s east side, police reported. Two more people were killed in an explosion in a mainly Christian enclave in southeast Baghdad. Ten were wounded, police said.
Suspected Shiite militiamen also burned down three houses in the largely Sunni al-Amil district in southwest Baghdad. Casualties were not known because police had blockaded the area.
Meanwhile, Ali Khazim, who ran al-Sadr’s political organization in volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, was killed Sunday by U.S. forces at his home in Howaider village, 12 miles east of Baqouba, Saleh al-Ageili, a spokesman for the Sadr Movement’s parliamentary bloc, said on Monday. Provincial police confirmed al-Ageili’s account.
The spokesman said Khazim was stabbed with a bayonet.
“What has happened to Khazim is part of the series of provocative acts by the occupation forces against the Sadr movement. The occupation forces know well who are the terrorists and their whereabouts, yet they are targeting our people,” al-Ageili told The Associated Press.
The U.S. military said in a statement that Iraqi troops backed by Americans had shot and killed the leader of a rogue Mahdi Army group in Howaider. It did not name Khazim as the victim.
“The suspect is believed to have facilitated and directed numerous kidnappings, assassinations and other violence targeting Iraqi civilians and Iraqi Police. He is reportedly responsible for several attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces in the area,” the military said.
The second Sadr organization official, Khalil al-Maliki, a key figure in the Mahdi Army militia in Basra, was killed by three gunmen in a drive-by shooting on Sunday. He survived an assassination attempt in the city last year.
As many as seven key figures in the Sadr organization have been killed or captured in the past two months, at least three of them by U.S. forces, after the prime minister, also a Shiite, dropped his protection for the organization â€” a crucial backer in his rise to power.
Also Monday, the U.S. military reported the deaths of two American soldiers, both killed on Sunday.
The bomb in Baghdad’s Sheik Omar district that killed eight people also left 18 wounded, many of them badly burned in a huge fire that broke out, fueled by engine oil being used by auto mechanics in the neighborhood, doctors at nearby al-Kindi Hospital said.
At least 15 more civilians died in the twin bombings in south Baghdad’s Sadiyah neighborhood. Sixty people were reported wounded in the mainly Sunni Muslim enclave.
The central Baghdad mortar attack wounded six people in addition to the one fatality. In the bombing in eastern Baghdad, a bomb hidden in trash killed a passer-by and wounded three others. The bomb exploded 10 minutes after a roadside bomb missed its intended target, a police patrol, but wounded two civilians.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen wearing police uniforms and using police cars attacked an armored truck delivering cash, kidnapped five bank officials and made off with $350,000, police said.
The kidnapped bank employees were found handcuffed in the armored truck in eastern Baghdad, police said. The victims told police that 15 men wearing Ministry of Interior Police Commando uniforms and driving three government cars conducted the heist.
And in an early morning attack in Mosul, the deputy governor of Nineveh province was wounded along with three bodyguards when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, said Hisham al-Hamdani, chief of the provincial security committee. Mosul is 225 miles north of Baghdad.
On Sunday, an Interior Ministry official said about 1,000 Iraqis â€” including civilians, security forces and gunmen â€” had been killed in the last week alone. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the figures.
Figures tallied by The Associated Press from police and government statements put the death toll from Jan. 28 until Saturday at 911.
That included 137 people killed Saturday in a massive truck bombing in the mostly Shiite Sadriyah market in central Baghdad. The explosion was fifth major bombing in less than a month against Shiite targets in Baghdad and Hillah.
It was also the deadliest in the capital since a string of car bombs and mortars killed at least 215 people in the Shiite district of Sadr City on Nov. 23.