Violence in Iraq drops sharply: Ministry

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Violence in Iraq has dropped by 70 percent since the end of June, when U.S. forces completed their build-up of 30,000 extra troops to stabilize the war-torn country, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

A U.S. soldier with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, takes a break after finding a weapons cache during a search mission in the Sunni neighbourhood of Arab Jabour in south Baghdad October 19, 2007. Violence in Iraq has dropped by 70 percent since the end of June, the Interior Ministry said on Monday. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The ministry released the new figures as bomb blasts in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul killed five people and six gunmen died in clashes with police in the holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala south of the Iraqi capital.

Washington began dispatching reinforcements to Iraq in February to try to buy Iraq’s feuding political leaders time to reach a political accommodation to end violence between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs that has killed tens of thousands and forced millions from their homes.

While the leaders have failed to agree on key laws aimed at reconciling the country’s warring sects, the troop buildup has succeeded in quelling violence.

Under the plan, U.S. troops left their large bases and set up combat outposts in neighborhoods while launching a series of summer offensives against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, other Sunni Arab militants and Shi’ite militias in the Baghdad beltway.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told reporters that there had been a 70 percent decrease in violence countrywide in the three months from July to September over the previous quarter.

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In Baghdad, considered the epicenter of the violence because of its mix of Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs, car bombs had decreased by 67 percent and roadside bombs by 40 percent, he said. There had also been a 28 percent decline in the number of bodies found dumped in the capital’s streets.

In Anbar, a former insurgent hotbed where Sunni Arab tribes have joined U.S. forces against al Qaeda, there has been an 82 percent drop in violent deaths.

“These figures show a gradual improvement in controlling the security situation,” Khalaf said.

However, in the northern province of Nineveh, where many al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab militants fled to escape the crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding region, there had been a 129 percent rise in car bombings and a corresponding 114 percent increase in the number of people killed in violence.

While the figures confirm U.S. data showing a positive trend in combating al Qaeda bombers, there is growing instability in southern Iraq, where rival Shi’ite factions are fighting for political dominance.

Police said six gunmen were killed in police raids in Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles) southwest of Baghdad.

Some 50 people were killed in Kerbala in August in fierce clashes between fighters loyal to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and local police, who are seen as aligned to the rival Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council’s armed wing, the Badr Organization.

After the clashes, Sadr said he was imposing a six-month freeze on the activities of the Mehdi Army, increasingly seen as beyond his control, so that he could reorganize it.

In Baghdad, three roadside bombs killed four people, including three policemen, while in Mosul one policeman was killed when a blast hit a police patrol.