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Violent Week in Iraq Nears an End

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Violent Week in Iraq Nears an End

Iraq

Violent Week in Iraq Nears an End

Violent Week in Iraq Nears an End

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It has been a particularly bloody week in Iraq, with sectarian violence intensifying in Baghdad even as U.S. forces continue a major operation aimed at stabilizing some of the capital's most violence-prone districts. American officers say sectarian militias are engaging in ethnic cleansing in some Baghdad neighborhoods.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It's been another bloody week in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. Sectarian violence there is increasing even as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue a major operation aimed at stabilizing some of the capitol's most dangerous districts. Dozens of bodies are turning up daily in the streets, many bearing marks of torture. Sunni and Shiite militias are said to be engaged in ethnic cleansing in some neighborhoods.

NPR's Tom Bowman is in Baghdad, and he joins us now. Tom, can you give us some sense of the scale of the violence that you've seen there this week?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, Michele, the numbers tell a grim tale, and usually you would see 30 to 40 bodies per day going to the Baghdad morgue, and now we're seeing over the past week a steady, increasing number, in the 60s, 70s, and finally on Thursday, 80 bodies showed up at the morgue. And a number were headless. And also there was one head found in a plastic bag with a note - this is the fate of Sunnis.

And at the same time we've seen a larger number of Americans get killed as well. On Thursday, five American soldiers were killed, and then today another was killed. And still another soldier was listed as missing after a truck bomb attacked an electric substation where there were Americans on patrol just west of the capitol.

NORRIS: Do you have any understanding of why this escalation? Why now, what's going on?

BOWMAN: Well, it could be because of this ongoing military operation, Together Forward it's called. They've sent thousands more troops, Iraqi and American, into their capitol, and they're going into some of the most violent neighborhoods and really sort of pushing the case here.

And there's a lot more fighting going back and forth between the troops and the militia groups, and particularly the Mahdi army, they say, which is controlled by a radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.

NORRIS: What is this increasing violence doing to the mood and the morale in the city?

BOWMAN: Well, there's a real concern about it, about the escalating violence. People are afraid. People are much more concerned than they were just a few weeks ago. Many people I talked with, American soldiers as well as Iraqi citizens, say there's clearly a civil war going on despite what they're saying back in Washington.

NORRIS: U.S. commanders ordered reinforcements into Baghdad for the ongoing security operation, but with this increasing violence, there are questions now about whether there are enough troops on the ground to do the job. What's the thinking there in Baghdad?

BOWMAN: Well, it's a good question. The American troops keep moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. You know, the unit I was with, it was a battalion of the 172nd Stryker Brigade combat team, was in the neighborhood of Adamia, which is in central Baghdad. And by all accounts they were doing a pretty good job there. With their presence, the murder rate was down, people were helping the Americans with information. Piles of trash were being removed, for example. Businesses were opening.

And then the battalion moved out south to this Jihad neighborhood and was replaced in Adamia by a smaller American unit, and just today we learned that there were heavy clashes in that neighborhood and roadside bombs, and the Americans have now just sealed off the area.

NORRIS: So the presence is important. Once they leave, things flare up again.

BOWMAN: Absolutely right, right. So it calls into question do they have enough troops in Baghdad, even though again they've sent thousands and thousands of troops there? But you need a huge number of people to really sit on these neighborhoods, and the Americans, you know, the sense is that the national police are not holding up their end of the bargain.

NORRIS: The Iraqi police.

BOWMAN: That's right.

NORRIS: Where are they failing?

BOWMAN: Well, they say the rank and file police are doing a pretty good job, but it's their leadership that's faulty. Many of them are corrupt, many of them only want to target the Sunni areas and others are afraid to go out without Americans. So if they have a mission that they could do on their own, they'd prefer not to do it. They're afraid, they want to wait for the Americans.

NORRIS: NPR's Tom Bowman is in Baghdad. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: Okay, thank you, Michele.

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