- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

KIRKUK, Iraq — Thousands of police and Iraqi soldiers started a major security crackdown in the restive oil city of Kirkuk yesterday, searching homes for weapons after all residents were ordered off the streets.

Maj. Gen. Shirko Shakir, the Kirkuk police chief, said cars and pedestrians had been cleared from the city’s streets after an indefinite curfew was imposed Friday night, and Iraqi security forces began sweeping through neighborhoods.

“This operation is an attempt to control the deterioration of the security situation in the city. We will continue it until we clean up the city and end insurgent activity,” he said.

Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, which has experienced an upsurge of violence. A spate of near simultaneous car bombs in the city killed 20 persons on Sept. 17 alone.

In northern Tal Afar, northwest of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber killed 14 persons yesterday in an attack on an Iraqi army checkpoint, the latest in a series of deadly suicide bombings in the town since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

President Bush has cited Tal Afar as an example of progress in the U.S. exit strategy, which depends on the ability of Iraqi security forces to take over from American troops.

Also yesterday, Baghdad police found dozens of unidentified corpses scattered across the Iraqi capital, as a vicious sectarian war raged on in defiance of a two-month-old U.S.-Iraqi security plan, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Since morning, police patrols have found 51 bodies riddled with bullets in various parts of Baghdad,” an Interior Ministry official told Agence France-Presse, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In recent months, Baghdad’s streets have become a hunting ground for rival death squads linked to Sunni rebel groups and Shi’ite militias. Officials say that more than 100 people are killed every day.

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, warned last week that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government had 60 to 90 days to control the violence that threatens civil war or the United States would reconsider its options.

Iraqi police Maj. Gen. Jamal Taher said a 10-mile trench had been dug south of Kirkuk in the past week to try to prevent insurgents and car bombs from entering the city.

Iraqi forces have beefed up security in many cities, fearing an increase in violence with the start of Ramadan.

Yesterday’s car bomb attack in Tal Afar was the fourth suicide car bombing on an army or police checkpoint in the town since the start of the holy month two weeks ago.

The town had been largely free of violence since U.S.-led forces drove out al Qaeda militants in an offensive last year.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a surprise visit to Baghdad last week to deliver a blunt message to Iraq’s leaders, telling them to end their “political inaction” and work faster to end the violence threatening to tear apart Iraq.

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