Iraq Attacks Hit Lowest Level Since 2003

U.S. soldiers detain an Iraqi man at the scene of a roadside bomb blast which targeted a minibus, in Firdous Square, central Baghdad, Iraq, on Nov. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed
The number of attacks in Iraq has dropped to the lowest level since 2003 despite a recent spate of high-profile bombings, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said Wednesday.

Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin blamed several attacks over the past few days on al Qaeda in Iraq and warned insurgents would continue to try to chip away at growing public confidence in security gains.

The commander credited part of the drop in violence to an increase in the number of Iraqi security forces on the streets as well as to the arrest of a number of key al Qaeda figures in recent months.

"November saw fewer attacks than any month since 2003," Austin said at a news conference in the U.S.-protected Green Zone. "We have significantly degraded al Qaeda's ability to plan, to resource and to capitalize on ruthless attacks on the Iraqi people."

He also expressed confidence that the transition to increased Iraqi oversight in U.S. military operations would be smooth under a new security pact that was approved last week by the Iraqi parliament.

Iraq's three-member presidential council still must approve the agreement, which will allow American forces to stay in the country for three more years after a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.

An official with the council led by President Jalal Talabani said the pact had been received on Monday and would be considered valid if no objections are registered within 10 days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Proponents of the deal have warned that Iraqis aren't ready to take over their own security. Opponents, led by the Sadrists, say the American presence is the main reason for the instability plaguing the country.

Since the security pact was signed a series of bombings have targeted Iraqi police checkpoints, government buildings and schools, as well as a police academy, and killed dozens of people in Baghdad and areas to the north and south.

Government workers have also been targeted with bombs placed in buses and other vehicles transporting them to work.

A so-called sticky bomb attached to a minibus carrying Education Ministry employees exploded on Wednesday, killing at least one civilian and wounding five others in eastern Baghdad, police said.

Another such bomb attached to a car exploded near the entrance of the heavily fortified Green Zone, wounding the driver, an Iraqi contractor working with U.S. forces, said an Iraqi police officer. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because we was not authorized to release details. The U.S. military confirmed the explosion and the injury.

"What you've seen in the last several days is an attempt by al Qaeda and others to conduct high-profile attempts that are really aimed at intimidating the civilian population" and drawing media attention, Austin said.

"Their intent is to erode the confidence of civilians and Iraqi security forces to create a picture that things are not going in the right direction."

In related news:

International media watchdog groups called Wednesday for the release of a freelance journalist jailed in northern Iraq for violating a public decency law by writing a story about homosexuality.

Adel Hussein was sentenced Nov. 24 to six months in jail by a court in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish-ruled region of northern Iraq, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

The case centers on an April 2007 article Hussein wrote for the independent weekly Hawlati that detailed the physical effects of homosexual sex, the organizations said.

Hussein also was ordered to pay a fine of about $106, the organizations said. He is being held at Mahata prison in Irbil, about 220 miles north of Baghdad.

"We are astonished to learn that a press case has been tried under the criminal code. What was the point of adopting - and then liberalizing - a press code in the Kurdistan region if people who contribute to the news media are still be tried under more repressive laws," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.