Associated Press Writer / February 23, 2008
The earth-jarring detonations, nearly 10 of them, even shook buildings across the Tigris River from the capital’s fortified core, which houses the U.S. Embassy, military facilities and the Iraqi government.
The attack came shortly before Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, a top U.S. military official tasked with restoring security to Baghdad, said that nearly 80 percent of the capital’s districts were now considered free of organized extremist activity.
The strikes were the most recent involving what Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, described as indirect fire — the military’s term for a rocket or mortar attack.
Similar volleys in the past week, including one against an Iraqi housing complex at Baghdad International Airport and its adjoining U.S. military base, killed 31 people, Milano said. He blamed the attacks on “al-Qaida and Iranian-backed special groups.”
Special groups is a term usually reserved for Shiite extremist groups that have broken away from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Many are thought to be backed and trained by predominantly Shiite Iran.
In an upbeat assessment, Milano said a yearlong operation by the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces to make the capital safer had improved the situation.
According to Milano, when the operation began only 20 percent of Baghdad’s 479 districts — known as mahallas — were relatively free of organized violence.
“Today 78 percent of the mahallas are considered free of organized extremist activities,” said Milano, the deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division.
He added that since June 2007 there had been a 75 percent decrease in attacks in Baghdad, a 90 percent decrease in civilian casualties and an 85 percent decrease in murders.
“All these indicate to me an improved security situation,” he said.
Baghdad, however, remains far from safe. The Iraqi military indefinitely banned all motorcycles, bicycles and hand-pushed and horse-drawn carts from the city’s streets, a military spokesman said Saturday.