Is violence on the rise again in Iraq?

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 11, 2008 

Cars destroyed during a suicide bombing sit near the Baghdad compound of Ali Hatem al Suleiman al Duleimy, one of the leaders of the powerful Anbar Awakening Council.

LAITH HAMMOUDI / MCT

BAGHDAD — Violence is increasing in Iraq, raising questions about whether the security improvements credited to the increase in U.S. troops may be short-lived.

Car bombs in Baghdad on Monday killed at least 11 people and injured a prominent leader of one of the country's most influential American-allied tribal militias.

The Ministry of Electricity announced that power to much of the nation, already anemic, is likely to lag in coming days because insurgents had blown up transmission facilities and natural gas pipelines that fuel generators.

CBS News confirmed that two of its journalists are missing in Basra, in Iraq's south.

A leading parliament member warned that budget disputes have paralyzed the legislature.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, finishing a two-day visit to Baghdad, said that he was likely to advocate a pause in troop withdrawals to evaluate the situation after the last of the additional troops sent here under President Bush's so-called surge strategy had left later this year.

Gates made the remark after meeting for two hours with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus already has indicated that he wants to slow troop withdrawals to consolidate the past year's security gains.

Gates previously has said that how fast troops are redeployed from Iraq will depend on conditions there. But his statement prompted criticism from Democratic lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., each issued statements that said delaying further withdrawals would leave the American military overstretched.

"While the administration puts our drawdown on permanent pause," Obama said, al Qaida leader Osama "bin Laden is on the loose, Afghanistan is sliding toward chaos and we're spending billions of dollars a week�in Baghdad instead of helping Americans who are struggling here at home."

Other leading presidential contenders made no comment on Gates' remarks. Republican front-runner John McCain has been a leading advocate of the surge.

After months of declining violence, February is certain to be the third straight month to see increases in the numbers of Baghdad residents killed in car bombings and suicide attacks.

According to statistics kept by McClatchy, the low point in such killings came in November, when 76 people died. Thanks to a pair of pet market bombings that killed 99 people Feb. 1, February's tally already is 131.

Petraeus' counsel on troop withdrawals after some surge troops have departed will play a big role in determining what Gates recommends to the president, Pentagon officials said.

Monday marked the second day in a row of suicide attacks. Blasts in Salah ad Din, Anbar and Ninevah provinces killed at least 30 people Sunday.

Monday, a suicide car bomber drove his car into the Baghdad residence of a prominent leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, a U.S.-allied militia that's credited with helping to drive al Qaida in Iraq from that province. Five minutes later, another car bomb exploded at a busy intersection a short distance away.

The blasts killed at least 11 people and injured 30.

Later, Sheik Ali Hathem al Suleiman al Duleimy, who was injured in the attack, went on Iraqi TV and declared war against his enemies. He said that his militia, many of whose members are paid by the United States, no longer would allow the U.S. or Iraqi government to interfere with its work.

His comments came as similar U.S.-allied groups in nearby Diyala province continued to refuse to work with American or Iraqi government forces until the provincial police chief is removed. On Monday, hundreds protested in Diyala to demand the chief's removal.

In an e-mailed statement, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, acknowledged the "frustration on the part of some awakening councils," but said that most remained on the job and committed to defending their neighborhoods.

Iraqi government spokesmen declined comment or couldn't be reached.

In another sign that benefits from the surge could be waning, the Ministry of Electricity said that a car bomb at a power station near Mosul in Ninevah province and attacks on natural gas lines connected to four power stations north of Baghdad had damaged the national power network. While repairs have been started, Iraqis can expect even less electricity in coming days, the ministry said in a statement.

CBS News said little about the two missing journalists in Basra, refusing to identify them or to say what had happened.

Meanwhile, parliament Speaker Mahmoud al Mishhadani said that the legislature was paralyzed over budget disputes involving the Kurdish region and warned that other key pieces of legislation, such as an amnesty for prisoners and more power for provincial governments, could fail in the bickering.

(Lannen reports for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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