- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi general took charge of the security operation in Baghdad yesterday as Iraqi police and soldiers manned new roadblocks — initial steps indicating the start of the anticipated joint operation with American forces to curb sectarian bloodshed.

Stung by continuing violence, Iraqi officials urged the United States to implement the plan as quickly as possible, particularly as some militias — which had offered the only protection in certain neighborhoods — have disappeared from the streets.

At least 38 persons died in bomb and mortar attacks across the city yesterday, 15 of them when two car bombs blew up in quick succession as they waited to buy gasoline in southern Baghdad. Seven persons died after nightfall, when four mortar shells struck a Shi’ite neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

The command center for the joint operation, staffed by Iraqis and Americans, opened yesterday inside the fortified Green Zone next to the prime minister’s office.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the Baghdad command center was manned but “not yet up and running.”

“It’ll take a few days to get things organized,” he said.

A spokesman for the Sadr Movement, an important Shi’ite bloc in parliament, complained that the security crackdown has been too long in coming, leaving a security vacuum that has allowed suicide bombers to devastate several Shi’ite marketplaces over the past few weeks.

An estimated 135 persons died in a truck bombing Saturday in the Sadriyah market, the deadliest single bomb attack since the war began.

Falah Hassan, the Sadr bloc lawmaker and spokesman, said the delay “has negative consequences for the lives of the Iraqis.”

“We demand that the plan be executed as soon as possible because the terrorists are going too far in their vicious attacks,” Mr. Hassan said on behalf of the lawmakers loyal to renegade anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Two senior members of Sheik al-Sadr’s political and military organization were killed outside Baghdad yesterday, a sign that leaders of the organization are being targeted by Sunni insurgents as well as U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, also called on the United States to speed up its the deployment of extra troops, telling the British Broadcasting Corp. that he wanted the plan in place “as soon as possible, because people cannot tolerate in fact this sort of chaos and the killing around the clock.”

The White House said the new strategy was going about as well as could be expected.

“This is not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight,” spokesman Tony Fratto said. “This plan is intended to bring long-lasting security to Baghdad. It’s going to take some time to put all of the elements in place.”

The security sweep will be led by Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, who was named to the top position under pressure from the United States after it rejected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s first choice, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Freiji.

Gen. Gambar will have two Iraqi deputies, one on each side of the Tigris River, which splits Baghdad north to south. The city is to be divided into nine districts, and as many as 600 U.S. forces in each district are to back up Iraqi troops.

The security drive, for which President Bush has dispatched 21,500 additional American forces, was seen by many as a last chance to quell sectarian violence in and around the capital.

Two security operations over the past nine months — Operations Together Forward I and II — have failed to halt the violence, in part because Iraqi authorities failed to produce the number of troops promised.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last week that Iraqi troops who arrived to augment the newly assembled Baghdad force were only at about half strength.

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