U.S. says suicide bombings down, points to joint operations west of Baghdad | VailDaily.com

U.S. says suicide bombings down, points to joint operations west of Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Suicide bombings fell in November to their lowest level in seven months, the American military said Thursday, citing the success of U.S.-Iraqi military operations against insurgent and foreign fighter sanctuaries near the Syrian border.But the trend in Iraq has not resulted in less bloodshed: 85 U.S. troops died during the month, one of the highest tolls since the invasion.In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. military played down reports by residents and police of widespread attacks Thursday against American and Iraqi installations in the city. The military said only one rocket-propelled grenade was fired at an observation post, causing no casualties. Insurgents left behind posters and graffiti saying they were members of al-Qaida in Iraq.Nevertheless, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a coalition operations officer, warned that al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, will likely step up attacks in the next two weeks to try to disrupt parliamentary elections Dec. 15.Lynch told reporters that suicide bombings declined to 23 in November as U.S. and Iraqi forces were overrunning insurgent strongholds in the Euphrates River valley west of the capital.Communities along the river are believed used by foreign fighters, who slip into the country from Syria and travel down the river highway to Baghdad and other cities.Lynch called suicide bombings the insurgents’ “weapon of choice” because they can inflict a high number of casualties while sacrificing only the attacker. Classic infantry ambushes draw withering American return fire, resulting in heavy insurgent losses.”In the month of November: only 23 suicide attacks – the lowest we’ve seen in the last seven months, the direct result of the effectiveness of our operations,” Lynch said.Car bombings – parked along streets and highways and detonated remotely – have declined from 130 in February to 68 in November, Lynch said.However, suicide attacks have not consistently decreased over the past year. After more than 70 such attacks in May, the number fell in August by nearly half and then climbed to over 50 two months later.And despite the decline over the past month, there has been no letup in the relentless toll of American deaths at a time of growing discontent in the United States over the Iraq war.The U.S. command said Thursday that four American service members were killed the day before, three of them from hostile action and the fourth in a traffic accident. The deaths raised the American fatality toll for November to at least 85.That was down from the 96 American deaths suffered in October – the fourth deadliest month since the war began in March 2003. But it was well above the 49 deaths in September. U.S. monthly death tolls have hit 80 or above during 10 of the 33 months of the war.There also has been no decline over the past six months in the Iraqi death toll from suicide attacks, according to an Associated Press tally. In November, at least 290 Iraqis were killed in such attacks, more than double the figure from the previous month. The count shows the Iraqi toll ranging from at least 69 deaths in August to at least 356 in September.November’s suicide attacks included near-simultaneous bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin, killing 76; a car bombing at a Shiite funeral north of the capital, killing 36; and a car bombing near a hospital in Mahmoudiya, killing 30.Also Thursday, Royal Jordanian airlines banned citizens of Arab nations from flying to Iraq on a request from the Iraqi government, an airline official said, adding Baghdad gave no reason for the request.The carrier barred five Arab passengers, including one Jordanian, from traveling to Baghdad on Thursday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ban. He did not know the nationality of the other four.Syrian Airlines, the only other non-Iraqi carrier with flights to Baghdad, received a similar request two days ago, an official with the carrier in Damascus said. But the carrier halted its thrice-weekly flights from Damascus to Baghdad last month, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for similar reasons.Officials at Iraqi Airways in Amman and Baghdad and the Iraqi Embassy in Amman were not immediately available for comment.Jordan is a key entry point from Arab nations into Iraq. Islamic militants have been known to enter Iraq from Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, but almost always by land across the long, difficult to patrol desert borders rather than by air.In Ramadi, police Lt. Mohammed al-Obaidi said at least four mortar rounds fell near the U.S. base on the city’s eastern edge. Residents also said scores of masked gunmen, believed to be members of al-Qaida in Iraq, ran into the streets but dispersed after launching attacks with mortars.An AP Television News video showed masked insurgents walking down a shuttered market street and a residential neighborhood, as well as firing four mortar rounds. The gunmen appeared relaxed, and the U.S. command dismissed the video as little more than a publicity stunt.Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, a Sunni Arab stronghold, where clashes between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi troops have left hundreds of people dead over the past two years. U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a joint operation near Ramadi on Wednesday, sweeping through an area used to rig car bombs.The brief burst of insurgent activity in Ramadi appeared aimed at diverting attention from a meeting between U.S. officials and local tribal leaders in a bid to ease tensions in the city.In the posters and graffiti they left behind, insurgents claimed responsibility for shooting down a U.S. drone. There were no reports of any U.S. drones being shot down, however.Also Thursday, the top official for human rights in the Interior Ministry was dismissed in connection with an inquiry into allegations of torture by government security forces.Nouri al-Nouri, the ministry’s chief inspector for corruption cases and human rights violations, was fired on the order of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.Al-Nouri, a Shiite, had been in the post since the handover of sovereignty to Iraqis in June 2004.Al-Jaafari, also a Shiite, ordered an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of up to 173 detainees after U.S. forces entered an Interior Ministry lockup Nov. 13 and found that some of those held there showed signs of torture.Vail, Colorado

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