BAGHDAD -- Missiles and mortar shells struck areas of Baghdad and central Iraq yesterday where violence and civilian deaths had decreased in recent weeks, raising concerns that insurgents were adapting their strategy to get around an increase in U.S. troops.
At least 14 Iraqis were killed, including seven in a mortar barrage aimed at a Shiite residential area north of Baghdad in the town of Khalis. Car bombs killed four people in Kirkuk, where a policeman was shot to death earlier in the day, and two were killed in a missile attack on a farming village near Ramadi.
The Ramadi attack unleashed panic in an area that had been relatively peaceful in recent weeks, said Juma Salim, a 62-year-old farmer who said that the presence of U.S. troops provoked the violence.
Kirkuk has suffered a rash of attacks since insurgents began fleeing the U.S.-led crackdown in Baghdad. Gunmen there killed an Iraqi police lieutenant, and three apparently coordinated car bombs killed four shoppers in a marketplace, including a 4-year-old. Forty-six people were injured.
The attacks spurred further sweeps against suspected insurgent hide-outs in which U.S.-led troops killed two and detained 16, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq.
American officials say they have captured dozens of key insurgents and disrupted their operations in campaigns launched in the past two months as the increase in U.S. troops has allowed more concerted moves against hot spots such as Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the west and south.
But as violence in those areas has eased, car bombs and small-arms fire have increasingly been directed against Iraqis in more distant areas. On Thursday, synchronized truck bombings in three far northern villages killed as many as 400 people of the minority Yazidi sect in the deadliest attack on civilians in the Iraq conflict.
The Bush administration maintains that security is improving. In his weekly radio address yesterday, President Bush cited Anbar province, whose capital is Ramadi, as a place where the U.S.-backed Iraqi government is gaining control over a former insurgent stronghold.
"Residents began to provide critical intelligence, and tribesmen joined the Iraqi police and security forces," the president said, reiterating the view of U.S. military officials here that the troop buildup to nearly 160,000 is giving Iraqis courage to break ranks with insurgents.
In Anbar province, Bush said, "virtually every city and town" now has a mayor and functioning municipal council. He mentioned similar political advances in parts of Muthanna, Diyala and Ninewa provinces. Iraq has 18 provinces in all.
Bush conceded that the central Iraqi government has failed to produce similar political progress despite an increase in U.S. troop levels and a six-month security crackdown. But he contended that reconciliation at the local level "will help create conditions for reconciliation in Baghdad as well."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also says that Sunni tribal leaders have begun collaborating with the government and police to restore order in their communities. "These are all the fruits of the reconciliation process," the Shiite prime minister said after a visit to Sunni leaders in Tikrit, which was Saddam Hussein's power base.
In Baghdad, President Jalal Talabani played host to another gathering of political leaders aimed at reconciling factions in the government. Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi, who boycotted a meeting earlier in the week, attended the gathering.
Omar Abdul Sattar, a member of parliament from the Sunni bloc's Iraqi Islamic Party, said that Hashimi aired Sunni concerns about six matters of disagreement within the government but that there was no immediate resolution. "It is still too early to say the meetings were successful, as there are very hard issues to be discussed and strong differences of opinions, but we can say that the beginning was smooth," he said.
Even U.S. officials who say progress has been made on the security front acknowledge that Iraqi leaders' inability to work together effectively has hampered efforts to stabilize the country and hand off responsibility for its defense and administration.
Meanwhile, the international police organization Interpol issued a notice asking foreign police to track down and extradite Raghad Hussein, the 38-year-old daughter of the late dictator, who is among 41 members of the former regime whom the new Iraqi government accuses of supporting terrorism. She has been given refuge by neighboring Jordan.
Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.