Bombings and mortar attacks killed dozens across Baghdad on Monday as Iraqi troops set up new checkpoints and an Iraqi general took command — indications that the much-awaited operation to restore peace to the capital is gearing up nearly a month after it was announced.
With little sign of an end to the carnage, many Iraqis have begun complaining that the security drive has been too slow in starting, allowing extremists free rein to launch spectacular attacks that have killed nearly 1,000 in the past week.
Monday's death toll supported their frustration. At least 74 people were killed or found dead across the country — all but seven of them in Baghdad.
Iraqi politicians — Shiite and Sunni alike — urged the government to speed up implementation of the plan, which President Bush announced Jan. 11. The operation would put thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops on the street to protect civilians against sectarian bombers and death squads.
In a sign that the crackdown is near, Iraqi troops manned a major new checkpoint Monday at the northern gate to Baghdad, searching cars and trucks heading to and from Sunni insurgent areas to the north. Soldiers and police said the checkpoint was set up as part of the security plan.
Elsewhere, Rahim al-Daraji, a senior official in Sadr City, said police were already moving into the capital's sprawling Shiite slum, stronghold of the notorious Mahdi Army militia.
And Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, who will direct the operation, took charge of his still-unfinished command center Monday in a former Saddam Hussein palace located inside the American-controlled Green Zone.
Gambar, who was taken prisoner by U.S. troops in the 1991 Gulf War, will have two Iraqi deputies, one on each side of the Tigris River, which flows through the center of the capital. The city will be divided into nine districts, each with as many as 600 U.S. soldiers to back up Iraqi troops who will take the lead in the security drive.
In announcing the plan, Bush said he was sending 21,500 additional American troops mostly to Baghdad in what is widely seen as a last chance to quell the sectarian violence ravaging the capital and surrounding regions.
About 3,000 paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Iraq in late January and were expected to begin operations in the coming days. But the last of the U.S. reinforcements are not due until May.
In other developments:A Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is cautioning Republicans against blocking a vote Monday on a resolution opposing President Bush's troop increase in Iraq, saying it would be a "terrible mistake." But Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said proponents of the nonbinding, bipartisan resolution were undermining national security. The U.S. command has ordered changes in flight operations after four helicopters were shot down in the last two weeks, the chief military spokesman said Sunday, acknowledging for the first time that the aircraft were lost to hostile fire. The crashes, which began Jan. 20, follow insurgent claims that they have received new stocks of anti-aircraft weapons — and a recent boast by Sunni militants that "God has granted new ways" to threaten U.S. aircraft. In Baghdad, gunmen wearing police uniforms and using police cars attacked an armored truck delivering cash, kidnapped five bank officials and made off with $350,000, police said. The kidnapped bank employees were found handcuffed in the armored truck in eastern Baghdad, police said. The victims told police that 15 men wearing Ministry of Interior Police Commando uniforms and driving three government cars conducted the heist.In an early morning attack in Mosul, the deputy governor of Nineveh province was wounded along with three bodyguards when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, said Hisham al-Hamdani, chief of the provincial security committee. Mosul is 225 miles north of Baghdad.On Sunday, an Interior Ministry official said about 1,000 Iraqis — including civilians, security forces and gunmen — had been killed in the last week alone. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the figures. Figures tallied by The Associated Press from police and government statements put the death toll from Jan. 28 until Saturday at 911.
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