General: Baghdad Security 'Disheartening'

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Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, has described the violence in Baghdad as "disheartening," admitting that a recent plan to quell the violence has not achieved the hoped for results.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. That's where U.S. military spokesmen describe security as disheartening. Jamie, what's going wrong?

JAMIE TARABAY: Well, there are several factors behind this increase in violence lately. First and foremost, it's the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and every one was expecting an increase in attacks. The insurgents have routinely focused on religious holidays here to launch attacks and cause more instability. And also, there are more troops on the ground that increase their presence and they're more exposed to attacks.

And also, the U.S. military spokesman, Major General Bill Caldwell said yesterday that, you know, there's a midterm elections coming up in the States, and the extremists know this. They know the power of the media. They know what it's like to see U.S. casualties on television screens in the States, and this is only going to add to the instability. There are extremists Web sites out there encouraging more attacks against the Americans.

INSKEEP: So if we review what's happened in the last few months, the Americans pulled back, somewhat, from Baghdad streets, and tried to allow the Iraqis to take more responsibility. The violence got worse. So in recent months the Americans came back again, and became much more active on the streets of Baghdad. Now the violence is worse. What do you do now?

TARABAY: Well, they're ordering a review of the strategy. Part of the problem is that when they do go into these neighborhoods in Baghdad, they search then they arrest people. And then they find out that there's actually a resurgence in the sectarian violence. So they have to go back in again. Major General Bill Caldwell said that the extremists are punching back hard.

there's also an Iraqi political element to all of these. This week, U.S. forces arrested a Shiite Sheikh that the U.S. forces said they had excellent information that he was involved in insurgent activity. He was released less than 24 hours later, under the orders of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. So whatever the U.S. military tries to do here, they're also constrained by the political elements here, as well.

INSKEEP: Did the U.S. military protest that man being released?

TARABAY: Well, they stood by Prime Minister Maliki's decision to do that. Major General Caldwell said that Iraq is a sovereign nation and Nouri al-Maliki is its prime minister. And, you know, he's the commander in chief and if he decides to do something like this, then they have to respect his decision.

INSKEEP: Jamie, we've been talking about the security situation in Baghdad. To the extent that you are able to learn, is the rest of the country any different?

TARABAY: In fact, the rest of the country is almost as bad. One of the things that came up in this military briefing yesterday - apart from the fact that in the last three weeks there's been a 22 percent increase in attacks - is that there are more attacks being directed against military and security forces targets. There was an attack in Kirkuk yesterday, that they killed about four Iraqi soldiers as well as, at least, eight civilians. And there was an attack in Mosul, that was directed towards a police station, in which 12 people were killed. So that is going on outside of the capital as well.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Speaking to us on a day after the U.S. military said it found the security situation in Baghdad disheartening, and promised to refocus its efforts.

Here's one other development from Iraq today: a Shiite militia group has taken over one of the larger cities in the southern part of the country. That's according to witnesses who say the militia is loyal to the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. He's a critic of the U.S. And today, in the city of Amarah, witnesses say his fighters stormed and blew up three main police stations.

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