- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

BAGHDAD — U.S. forces patrolled the streets of the predominantly Shi’ite city of Balad yesterday after five days of sectarian slaughter killed 95 persons, violence that surged out of control despite the efforts of Iraq’s best-trained soldiers.

Iraq’s 4th Army Battalion took command of the region north of Baghdad a month ago, but had been unable to stem recent attacks in Balad, where the slayings of 17 Shi’ite Muslim workers Friday set off revenge killings by Shi’ites.

Minority Sunnis, who absorbed most of the brutality in the city of 80,000 people, have been fleeing across the Tigris River in small boats, Balad police commander Brig. Nebil al-Beldawi said. On the outskirts of the city, two fuel trucks were attacked and burned.

The police commander said gunmen wearing black uniforms, trademark clothing of Shi’ite militiamen, had clashed with residents of Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni city on the east bank of the Tigris, opposite Balad. Brig. al-Beldawi said the militants were keeping food and fuel trucks from entering Duluiyah.

Forty mortar rounds poured into Balad overnight and into the morning, killing at least four persons, bringing the death toll in the area to at least 95 in five days of fighting.

Gunmen in police uniforms hijacked 13 civilian cars and abducted their occupants at a checkpoint outside Balad on Monday night, Salahuddin provincial police reported. Those abducted remained missing yesterday.

The U.S. military symbolically handed control of parts of Salahuddin province to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division on April 15. That region included Balad and Duluiyah, as well as surrounding villages. Full control of the province was officially turned over to the 4th Army Battalion on Sept. 18.

Under such shifts of control, U.S. forces do not necessarily withdraw, but are deployed to local bases to stand by as backup. Since the latest security crackdown in Baghdad, however, U.S. forces from many regions have shifted to the capital, causing a drawdown of American troop strength in some regions of the country.

Elsewhere in Iraq, 36 persons were killed yesterday in violent attacks and 16 more corpses were found in the capital, their hands and legs bound and showing signs of torture, police said.

According to an Associated Press count, October is on track to be the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. So far this month, 767 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence, an average of 45 per day.

That compares with an average daily death toll of about 27 since April 2005. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

The Interior Ministry, which runs the Iraqi police, removed two officers in charge of commando units as part of a restructuring plan announced last week. Officials said Maj. Gen. Rashid Filah and Maj. Gen. Mahdi Sabbih were not demoted, and they denied the transfer had anything to do with militia activity.

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