November 12, 2007 / 8:41 AM / 12 years ago

Iraq hopes to end Baghdad security operation soon

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s government hopes it will soon be able to declare an end to a U.S.-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad following a sharp drop in violence in the capital, a military spokesman said on Monday.

Schoolgirls walk in the Muhalla 832 Mechanik neighbourhood in Baghdad November 12, 2007. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi, Iraqi spokesman for the nine-month-old Baghdad security offensive, said the decline in violence would also allow the government to reopen 10 roads this month that had been closed for security reasons.

“We are in the final stage of Operation Imposing Law ... Soon the prime minister will declare the final victory against terrorist groups and al Qaeda,” Moussawi told Reuters.

“This will mark the end of Operation Imposing Law.”

Moussawi did not suggest that would mean an end to joint military offensives in Baghdad.

Declaring an end to the operation would acknowledge security had improved but would be largely symbolic since tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops would be likely to remain in the city.

The U.S. military declined to comment on Moussawi’s remarks.

Even as violence ebbs in Baghdad, a senior police source said guards from a foreign security firm had shot and killed a taxi driver in the city on Saturday while they were escorting a convoy through the streets.

DynCorp International, which protects U.S. officials in Iraq, reported an incident in which it fired at a car it said came too close to a convoy. The Virginia-based firm said it was not aware of any deaths or injuries.

The police source was unable to identify the security contractor involved.

A spate of Iraqi deaths at the hands of private security guards, including a September incident involving U.S.-based Blackwater that left 17 dead, has infuriated Iraqis.

MORTAR, ROCKET ATTACKS DOWN

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s cabinet approved a draft law last month that would end legal immunity for foreign security firms. The U.S. military relies heavily on private security contractors to relieve the pressure on its troops, which have been stretched thin combating sectarian violence.

Iraqi and U.S. forces launched Operation Imposing Law in Baghdad in February to try and halt Iraq’s slide into civil war.

President George W. Bush sent an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq to beef up Iraqi government forces, with most of the additional American troops deployed in and around Baghdad.

When the offensive began, Iraq was gripped by dozens of bombing and shooting attacks nearly every day. Since American reinforcements were fully deployed in the middle of the year, attacks have fallen sharply.

Moussawi told Iraqi state television that reopening 10 out of some 80 closed roads would help reduce traffic jams in Baghdad and “citizens will feel life returning to normal”.

The U.S. military said in a statement that mortar and rocket attacks in Iraq in October had dropped to their lowest level since February 2006.

Slideshow (8 Images)

One factor behind the improved security has been the August decision by anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to freeze the activities of his feared Mehdi Army militia, which has been linked to many of the mortar and rocket attacks.

While attacks in Iraq have declined, movement toward political reconciliation at the national level between majority Shi’ite and minority Sunni Arabs has been slow.

Parliament has yet to pass key laws that Washington believes will help heal sectarian divisions.

Additional reporting by Paul Tait, Aseel Kami and Missy Ryan; Editing by Caroline Drees

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