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Attacks rise south of Baghdad, fall nationwide, US says

By David Rising
Associated Press / March 26, 2009
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CAMP STRIKER, Iraq - Attacks on Iraqi security forces have increased in an area south of Baghdad where the Iraqis are in control, even as violence nationwide has fallen to levels of the first months of the war, US officers said yesterday.

The spike in attacks has not risen so much that it would affect US plans to turn over more security responsibility to the Iraqis, General Carter Ham, the commander of US Army Europe, was told during a visit with Europe-based units.

During a briefing for the general, Major Pat Kaune, intelligence chief of the First Armored Division's Second Brigade Combat Team, said attacks on US forces in his sector had fallen by about half since the unit arrived from Germany a year ago.

In the last month, however, attacks on Iraqi army and police leaders had increased, he said.

Kaune gave no figures but added that "we don't see any trends that are cause for concern that the ISF [Iraqi security forces] can't handle."

His brigade's area includes south Baghdad and a belt of communities around the southern rim of the capital, where insurgents used to rig car bombs for attacks in the city.

The area was targeted by US soldiers during the 2007 troop surge, which largely succeeded in shutting down car bomb factories there.

But the increase in attacks there underscores the resilience of both Sunni and Shi'ite militants and will test the ability of Iraq's security forces to maintain order as the United States draws down its military presence this year.

Despite the local spike, US military spokesman Major General David Perkins said attacks nationwide had fallen to levels of the early months of the war, which began with the US-led invasion in March 2003.

"At the height of the violence, we were averaging 1,250 attacks a week," Perkins told reporters yesterday. "Now, many times, we have less than 100 a week."

Perkins said that in January and February of 2007, 148 US troops were killed in action in Iraq.

In the first two months of this year, 19 troops died as a result of hostile fire.

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