U.S. forces were back patrolling the streets of the predominantly Shiite town of Balad on Tuesday after a shocking five days of sectarian violence in which nearly 100 died. American and Iraqi officials said the bloodletting in Balad had eased, although some violence continued.Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry said Tuesday it had stripped two officers of their duties directing commando units, calling the move part of a restructuring plan for the national police force. Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the two officers — Maj. Gen. Rashid Filah and Maj. Gen. Mahdi Sabbih — were transferred from their posts, but he gave no concrete indication of any plans for the men.
For example, unidentified gunmen in police uniforms hijacked 13 civilian cars with their occupants at Sayed Gharib checkpoint about four miles outside Balad on Monday night, an officer at the Salahuddin provincial police headquarters said.
The officer said the incident took place after police had left the checkpoint for the evening. He said he had been told those abducted had been taken to nearby area, but there was no further word on their fate. The officer spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to media.
The head of Iraq's security commission angrily accused the government of failing to resolve the crisis. Residents also blamed American forces — there is a base located right next door to Balad — for failing to intervene. But U.S. officials said they couldn't act until asked by Iraqi officials, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
As the violence had raged over the weekend, the American military initially said it had not been asked for help. By Monday, the military indicated some involvement but issued only a vague statement. The final and more definitive but still imprecise description of U.S. involvement was issued by Tuesday.
"By coordinating all of our efforts, we have seen a marked decrease in violence in the past 24 hours," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Martindale, commander of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. U.S. forces were also firing back at insurgents launching mortar attacks on civilians in the area, he said.
Iraqi deaths are running at a high rate. According to an Associated Press count, 708 Iraqis have been reported killed in war-related violence this month, or just more than 44 per day, compared to a daily average of more than 27 since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005.
In other developments:
Saddam Hussein accused prosecution witnesses in his genocide trial Tuesday of sowing division for the benefit of Israel after they testified that his regime's forces detained Kurds in camps where hundreds died of malnutrition. The chief prosecutor said Saddam ran a police state that kept no records of detainees and camps — a charge the deposed leader denied.
U.S. troops uncovered two weapons caches and detained seven suspected terrorists in and around Baghdad on Sunday and Monday, the military said. Troops seized weapons, bomb making materials and artillery rounds and rockets to be turned into roadside bombs.
Across Iraq, bombings and shootings killed at least 33 people. Ten people were killed in a spate of shootings in the southern, predominantly Shiite city of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Unidentified gunmen in both police and civilian vehicles gunned down victims including four students outside the city's university and a well-known doctor who was leaving her house for work, said a Basra police captain speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
In Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed five Iraqi soldiers as their convoy passed through the town at 7 a.m., police Lt. Ahmed Ali said.
Gunmen stormed into the house of a Shiite family in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, at 3 a.m., killing the mother and four adult sons and injuring the father, provincial police official Khalil Yacoub said.
Two policemen in a patrol car were killed at 11 a.m. by gunmen in a passing car in the center of the western city of Falluja, a former insurgent, police Lt. Husam Mohammed said.
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