BAGHDAD — More than a month after the beginning of a highly publicized security crackdown and the killing of militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, the number of daily attacks in Baghdad has actually increased.
Iraqi and U.S. forces began stepping up patrols, creating new checkpoints and conducting more searches June 14. But the initiative, Operation Together Forward, has not reduced the number of attacks in the capital, according to statistics released by U.S. military forces Thursday.
In the 101 days before the crackdown, an average of 23.8 attacks occurred daily. In the first 35 days of the operation, the average was 25.2 attacks a day.
The failure of the crackdown to decrease the violence is yet another sign of the sectarian conflict that has buffeted this city. Continuing violence across Iraq prompted Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the nation's highest-ranking Shiite Muslim cleric, to issue a rare public statement Thursday that urged Iraqis to stop attacks against civilians.
"I repeat my call today to all Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities to realize the extent of the danger threatening their country's future and confront it side by side," Sistani wrote.
In the statement, Sistani called on those setting off car bombs and carrying out executions to stop, and to instead start talking with the government.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and U.S. military leaders have said their priority is securing Baghdad, increasing residents' sense of safety by eliminating sectarian militias, death squads and insurgent fighters.
Officials tried to put the best face on the statistics. Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, said at a news conference Thursday that an upswing in sectarian violence in the last few days had driven the averages higher. In the first month of the operation, he said, the number of daily attacks was about the same as during the previous 101 days, at 23.7 a day.
"While the last five days or so should not be an indicator of the Baghdad security plan overall, neither can they be brushed aside," Caldwell said. "And again, we will do whatever it takes to bring down the level of violence here in Baghdad."
The June death of Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had led some to hope that the power of foreign militants here would diminish. Although the effectiveness of Zarqawi's organization after his death has yet to be tested, it is clear that much of the violence in Baghdad is unrelated to foreign militants. Most of the recent killing in the capital involves Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents trading attacks with Shiite death squads.
On Monday, the bodies of 32 Sunni Arab men were found in Baghdad, apparently the victims of Shiite death squads. Those killings were followed by a suicide bombing that killed 57 day laborers in a Shiite neighborhood of the southern town of Kufa.
Such fighting has led prominent Sunni Arab and Shiite leaders to say their country is gripped by an undeclared civil war.
The violence continued Thursday morning with a car bomb that killed three and injured 10 in downtown Baghdad. In the afternoon, a second car bomb killed two people and injured seven in the Shula neighborhood.
Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city where ethnic tensions have risen along with the sectarian fighting in Baghdad, was also the scene of a car bombing. The device exploded near the government building downtown, killing five and wounding 19.
The U.S. military confirmed that it had launched a joint operation with Iraqi security forces in two small cities west of Kirkuk. Soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the Iraqi security forces surrounded the town of Hawija, while a joint force entered the market at the center of the city, military officials announced.
Thirty-one Iraqi soldiers have been killed in Hawija in the last five weeks, the military said.
Iraqi army officials had announced a joint operation in the Rashad area, also west of Kirkuk, on Wednesday.
The U.S. military statistics showed that in the first four weeks of the security crackdown in Baghdad, attacks had fallen in seven of the city's 10 districts. Caldwell said much of the recent violence occurred in a few neighborhoods, which experience about 41% of the city's killings.
"We should note the extreme concentration of attacks in roughly five areas around the city," Caldwell said.
"This contrasts to the swaths of Baghdad experiencing somewhat relative peace. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis live a regular life day in and day out, unmarred by the violent attacks on civilians in the most troubled areas."
The security operation in Baghdad has taken a heavy toll on Iraqi police and soldiers. U.S. military officials said that 92 Iraqi police and soldiers had been killed and 444 injured in the first four weeks of the operation.