Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday announced the start of a massive security campaign in Baghdad, saying security forces would show “no mercy” in their effort to wipe out insurgent strongholds and defang militias.
Some 75,000 troops — Iraqi and American — will carry out the operation code-named “Going Forward Together,” said Gen. Abdelaziz Mohammed Jassem, Iraq’s combined-forces operations chief. He said the campaign would start “very, very soon,” and sources in Baghdad said they expected the crackdown to begin immediately.
Mr. al-Maliki’s announcement came as al Qaeda in Iraq’s new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, threatened to kill those Sunnis who take part in the political process rather than work with the insurgency, which has killed and maimed thousands of security forces and civilians.
Meanwhile, radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite, planned a demonstration today in Baghdad to protest a surprise visit by President Bush to the Iraqi capital.
Violence around the country continued unabated, with 14 persons killed in a series of bombings in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, adding to a death toll of more than 4,000 Iraqis this year alone.
Mr. al-Maliki told reporters that the new security plan “will provide security and confront the terrorism and … enable Iraqis to live in peace in Baghdad.”
“The raids during this plan will be very tough — because there will be no mercy toward those who show no mercy to our people,” he added.
The hours of nightly curfew banning all cars and people from the streets will be extended. Driving will also be banned between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Fridays, the Muslim day of worship when mosques are packed.
Reflecting the no-nonsense approach that has characterized Mr. al-Maliki’s government, Gen. Jassem warned that the curfew would be strictly enforced and that anyone caught with a weapon would be shot or detained.
“Anybody on the street, in his car or in his shop caught with a weapon, any kind of weapon, will be considered a terrorist and will be treated as a terrorist. He will be killed or captured,” the general said.
He said security forces would set up checkpoints on the streets and conduct raids in known insurgent pockets in and around Baghdad. The checkpoints will be manned by combined units of Iraqi police and army and U.S. forces.
The mixed units are designed to cut down the incidence of false checkpoints and sectarian death squads who often wear Interior Ministry or police uniforms.
“I am optimistic about his coming over here — you will see a change in the government,” he said. “Bush is the solution: He brought them in, so he can take them out,” he said of the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government.
Others were less impressed by the American leader’s five-hour visit to the heavily guarded Green Zone, which — with regular electricity and water, gas stations, buses, restaurants, swimming pools and protected villas — is an alien world to the one in which most Iraqis live.
“What will [Mr. Bush] do for us?” asked Om Mohammed, a 34-year-old Shi’ite housewife. “We need electricity, we need water, we want a less-expensive life. We are tired of the three years they said was democracy. Democracy without electricity and water is not democracy. Our kids are dying every day. Zarqawi is dead, but we will get another 20 Zarqawis.”
Al-Muhajer, the apparent successor to the terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was killed last week, said in an Internet statement that the horrific bombing and beheading carnage in Iraq was far from over.
“Do not be overtaken with the ecstasy of having killed our sheikh. He has left behind lions that have been trained in his den,” the statement threatened.
Zarqawi died a week ago after the building he was hiding in was hit by two 500-pound American bombs. The U.S. military said Monday that a medic had spent about 20 minutes trying to save him even as blood ran from his mouth.
Seeking to dispel claims that Zarqawi was beaten or shot while in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said an autopsy performed Saturday proved the Jordanian-born militant died of “massive internal injuries,” the Associated Press reported.
“A coalition medic treated Zarqawi while he did lapse in and out of consciousness,” Gen. Caldwell said at a press conference in Baghdad. “The medic secured his airway, at which point Zarqawi expelled blood.” He said the medic “noted the breathing was shallow and labored.”
The cause of death was listed as “primary blast injury of the lung,” with blast waves from the two bombs causing bruising and bleeding of the organs. Zarqawi suffered multiple bruises, scratches and deep head wounds.
A special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.