Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched the crackdowns to extend the authority of the government over areas in Baghdad and elsewhere that have largely been under the control of armed groups since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
"They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it," al-Maliki said. "But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them."
He was speaking at ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the 2003 assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a leading opponent of Saddam Hussein who was killed in a truck bombing in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf after returning from exile in Iran.
Such attacks plagued Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion, but violence in the country has now fallen to its lowest level in four years. The change has been driven by the 2007 buildup of American forces, the Sunni tribal revolt against al Qaeda in Iraq and al-Maliki's crackdowns, among other factors.
"Under the national unity government, the Iraqis have achieved national feats ... that are now lighting the course of our march," said al-Maliki.
Bolstered by this confidence, the prime minister plans to visit the United Arab Emirates on Sunday and also Italy and Germany later in the month - apparently hoping improved security at home will pay dividends in greater international support.
Iraq is also enjoying a surge in oil revenue driven by record crude prices and the highest production levels since Saddam's ouster. The government expects to earn a total of US$70 billion from oil in 2008 if prices remain high.
Planning to put some of this money to work, the Iraqi government held a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for a major project to refurbish the main road to the Baghdad airport. The road was once considered one of the most dangerous in the world but has become safer with the decline in violence in the country.
Despite recent gains, daily attacks continue throughout Iraq. Gunmen attacked a police patrol Saturday near Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing one policeman, police said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Also Saturday, one policeman was killed and a passer-by was injured near Nasiriyah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, when a bomb attached to the policeman's car exploded, police said, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
On Friday, one Iraqi citizen was killed and seven were wounded when an explosion occurred in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk, said the U.S. military.
AP Exclusive: U.S. Removes Uranium From Iraq
The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program - a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium - reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing two oceans.
The removal of 550 metric tons of "yellowcake" - the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment - was a significant step toward closing the books on Saddam's nuclear legacy. It also brought relief to U.S. and Iraqi authorities who had worried the cache would reach insurgents or smugglers crossing to Iran to aid its nuclear ambitions.
What's now left is the final and complicated push to clean up the remaining radioactive debris at the former Tuwaitha nuclear complex about 12 miles south of Baghdad - using teams that include Iraqi experts recently trained in the Chernobyl fallout zone in Ukraine.
"Everyone is very happy to have this safely out of Iraq," said a senior U.S. official who outlined the nearly three-month operation to The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
While yellowcake alone is not considered potent enough for a so-called "dirty bomb" - a conventional explosive that disperses radioactive material - it could stir widespread panic if incorporated in a blast. Yellowcake also can be enriched for use in reactors and, at higher levels, nuclear weapons using sophisticated equipment.
The Iraqi government sold the yellowcake to a Canadian uranium producer, Cameco Corp., in a transaction the official described as worth "tens of millions of dollars." A Cameco spokesman, Lyle Krahn, declined to discuss the price, but said the yellowcake will be processed at facilities in Ontario for use in energy-producing reactors.
The deal culminated more than a year of intense diplomatic and military initiatives - kept hushed in fear of ambushes or attacks once the convoys were under way: first carrying 3,500 barrels by road to Baghdad, then on 37 military flights to the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia and finally aboard a U.S.-flagged ship for a 8,500-mile trip to Montreal.
And, in a symbolic way, the mission linked the current attempts to stabilize Iraq with some of the high-profile claims about Saddam's weapons capabilities in the buildup to the 2003 invasion.
Accusations that Saddam had tried to purchase more yellowcake from the African nation of Niger - and an article by a former U.S. ambassador refuting the claims - led to a wide-ranging probe into Washington leaks that reached high into the Bush administration.