Commander of Baghdad crackdown says Iraq to close borders with Syria, Iran for 72 hours
The Iraqi commander of the Baghdad security crackdown announced Tuesday that Iraq will close its borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours as part of the drive to end the violence that has threatened to divide the capital along sectarian lines.
Addressing the nation on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar also said Baghdad’s nighttime curfew would be expanded by an hour and permits allowing civilians to carry weapons in public would be suspended during all of the operation, which he suggested could last weeks.
Gambar’s announcement came hours after a suicide truck bomber struck a government warehouse in a mainly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of the capital, killing at least 15 people and wounding 27, according to police and hospital officials. A parked car bomb also exploded near a bakery in another Shiite area, killing four people and wounding four, police said.
The general did not say when the borders would close, but another official said it was expected within two days. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, added that the borders would only partly reopen after the 72-hour closing.
The United States has long charged that Iran and Syria let extremists use their territory to slip into Iraq to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as civilians.
Iraqi authorities have routinely echoed the U.S. charges against Syria, but they rarely make that claim regarding Iran, with which Iraq’s Shiite-led government has close relations.
Gambar said Baghdad’s nighttime curfew would be extended by one hour when the security drive kicks off fully, running from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The U.S. military announced last week that the clampdown had already begun, although Iraqis have seen little evidence of that. President Bush has committed 21,500 more Americans to the operation, which is expected to involve a total of 90,000 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers.
The campaign is widely seen as possibly the U.S. military’s final attempt to calm the city. It will be the third attempt by U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies to end violence in Baghdad since al-Maliki took office last May.
Gamber said he would report to al-Maliki weekly to discuss progress in the operation.
His address suggested Iraqi authorities plan to exercise wide powers while waging the crackdown. A criminal court, for example, will hold emergency hearings on cases such as murder, theft, rape, kidnapping, damaging public property and the possession and transfer of arms and ammunition, he said.
Gambar, a Shiite and a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War when he served in Saddam Hussein’s army, said security forces also plan to monitor mail, parcels, telegrams and wireless communication devices during the operation.
He said security forces would try to avoid intruding in places of worship, but added that they would do so in “cases of extreme emergencies when it is feared that these places pose a threat to the lives of citizens or if they are used for unlawful purposes.” U.S. and Iraqi authorities have often said Sunni Arab insurgents use mosques to store arms or fire at troops.
Tuesday’s suicide truck bombing was the latest in a series of attacks since Bush and al-Maliki announced more than a month ago that they would launch the security crackdown.
Witnesses said the suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden truck into cars parked on a street as people were entering a Trade Ministry office that administers ration cards for the area.
The office and warehouses storing sugar and other rationed foodstuffs are next to the private College of Economic Sciences, but it was closed for midterm so no students were among the casualties, police said.
In other violence, the U.S. military announced that an American soldier died in combat Sunday in volatile Anbar province, west of Baghdad, raising to 42 the number of American personnel killed this month.
Iraqi police reported finding 28 bullet-riddled bodies showing signs of torture, apparent victims of sectarian death squads. Most of the bodies turned up in Baghdad.