- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

2:33 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops fanned out across Baghdad today in a major security crackdown aimed at ending the violence that has devastated the capital.

Cars backed up throughout the city of 6 million at checkpoints behind coils of barbed wire as Iraqi police and soldiers searched vehicles and secured roads into and out of the capital.

Barely more than six hours after visiting Baghdad, President Bush said violence in Iraq will never be eliminated but that the crackdown and new intelligence on terrorism are contributing to “steady progress.”

Despite the stepped-up security, a parked car bomb struck the northern district of Qahira, killing four civilians and wounding six, police said.

Clashes broke out in the northern Sunni district of Azamiyah, with heavy exchanges of gunfire sending residents scurrying for cover. The clashes took place near the Grand Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni Muslim shrine in Iraq. There were reports of casualties.

Most stores were closed in Azamiyah and mostly Sunni Dora, two strongholds of the insurgency. Entire streets in Dora, in southern Baghdad, were deserted, including al-Moalemeem road, dubbed “Death Road” by residents because of the frequent clashes there between Sunni insurgents and security forces and sectarian killings.

In Baghdad’s central and mainly Shi’ite Karradah district, beset by a series of car bombs in the past week, Iraqi army troops patrolled on foot. Some were deployed at main intersections in pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on their roofs.

U.S. troops patrolled parts of Baghdad in convoys of up to four Humvees. They used the more heavily armored Bradley fighting vehicles in Dora.

Traffic was heaviest in areas where security forces were deployed in large numbers, forcing traffic to one lane. The troops also conducted random searches.

The crackdown, which Army officials said was dubbed Operation Forward Together, began a day after Mr. Bush’s surprise visit to Baghdad, promising continued U.S. support for Iraqis but cautioning that “the future of the country is in your hands.”

Mr. Bush said that any expectation of “zero violence” in Iraq was unreasonable, but he also said Iraqi and coalition forces were stepping up their activities against insurgents, in part by using new intelligence gathered in raids following the killing of top Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi last week.

Mr. Bush also said the security crackdown ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered the promise of reducing the violence.

Mr. al-Maliki urged Iraqis to be patient and promised that the security forces would respect human rights and would not single out any ethnic or sectarian group.

Maj. Gen. Mehdi al-Garrawi, the commander of Public Order Forces under the Interior Ministry, said the operation was the biggest of its kind in Baghdad since the U.S. handed over sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004.

The Iraqi army initiated a similar crackdown, dubbed Operation Lightning, in May 2005, deploying more than 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers, backed by U.S. troops and air support.

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