BAQUBAH, Iraq -- The top U.S. general on the ground in Iraq warned yesterday that a spike in violence was likely in coming months as Iraq's new government begins its full term in office.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of U.S.-led troops in Iraq, said that despite political progress and the growing competence of Iraqi security forces, troops in Iraq are still fighting a bloody insurgency.
"There's nothing about this that I would [call] peacekeeping," he said. "We're in a fight."
This month, at least 70 U.S. troops have been killed in that fight, the highest toll in five months. A soldier died yesterday when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad.
"What we're seeing now, the upsurge in violence, is all about destabilizing the government," Chiarelli said in an interview. "It's a strategy to push up violence to take away the focus from what the prime minister is doing."
Parliament on April 22 endorsed a deal to designate Shiite politician Nouri al-Maliki the prime minister. Al-Maliki has 30 days from the time he was named prime minister to put together a Cabinet, which will be Iraq's first permanent government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
In the past, violence has spiked around key political events such as elections.
"I'll expect the violence to be high in the first months of the new government," Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli spent yesterday in Baqubah, addressing Iraqi and American troops in the provincial capital of Diyala about 35 miles northeast of the capital. In recent weeks, rebels have mounted a series of bold, large-scale attacks to gain control of this ethnically and religiously mixed city.
Despite the need for American backup, Chiarelli said, Iraqi soldiers and police officers fought side by side.
Traveling from his Baghdad headquarters to Baqubah in a phalanx of Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, Chiarelli was accompanied by several Iraqi generals.
"By this heroic action, you have written a new chapter in the book of major exploits of the new Iraqi army," Abadi told soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 5th Division of the Iraqi army. "You were able to conquer fear and uncertainty, and demonstrate how the will to win makes a difference in combat leading to victory and defeat of the terrorists."
Yesterday, authorities in Baghdad recovered five bodies from various areas and two roadside bombs injured five police officers, according to authorities.
Six bodies were found in Dora, on the southern edge of the capital. All were handcuffed and blindfolded, showing signs of torture. Near Tall Afar in northwest Iraq, officials reported that an adult and two children had been killed when a mortar round hit their house.
Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Killed in Iraq
As of yesterday, at least 2,399 U.S. service members had died since military operations began in March 2003.
Marine Cpl. Salem Bachar, 20, Chula Vista, Calif.; killed because of enemy action April 13 in Anbar province; assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen J. Perez, 22, San Antonio; killed because of enemy action April 13 in Anbar province; assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Army Capt. Ian P. Weikel, 31, Colorado; died April 18 in Balad when his vehicle was struck by a roadside explosive in Baghdad; assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
[ Associated Press]