More Troops May Be Needed in Baghdad, U.S. General Says
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER and DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: July 13, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 12 — Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American
commander in Iraq, said Wednesday that “terrorists and death squads” were
responsible for the surge in sectarian killings here in recent weeks, and
that there might be a need to move more American forces into the capital to
prevent the deadly cycle from worsening.
His remarks came on a day when at least 30 people were killed and 37 wounded
in and around Baghdad, including 20 people who were kidnapped from a bus
station 60 miles north of the city and killed, Iraqi officials said. A local
police official offered a slightly different account of that episode.
Hours before General Casey spoke, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki,
told Iraqi lawmakers that his program of national reconciliation was the
country’s “last chance” to avoid slipping into chaos.
General Casey appeared at a news conference here with Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld, who made a surprise visit to American troops at an air
base in Balad, north of Baghdad, before meeting with Mr. Maliki in the
capital to discuss plans to improve this city’s deteriorating security.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the number of Iraqi and American troops in Baghdad had
increased to about 55,000 from 40,000 to deal with the surge in attacks in
the city. But the increase has not noticeably restrained the sectarian
bloodletting, mostly between Sunnis and Shiites.
The general said Sunni terrorist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda were
killing Shiite civilians in Baghdad to show their continued power in the
aftermath of an American missile strike last month that killed the leader of
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In response to killings by
Sunnis, he said, Shiite “death squads” in Baghdad had begun indiscriminately
killing Sunni Arab residents, including dozens who were seemingly pulled
from their cars and homes at random on Sunday and killed on the street.
“So you have both sides now attacking civilians, and that has caused the
recent spike” in violence here in Baghdad, General Casey said. Foreign
fighters, though, account for only a small percentage of the daily violence
in Iraq; most of it occurs at the hands of nationalist and sectarian
More than 130 people have been killed in or around Baghdad during the past
four days, underscoring the persistence of violence that has convinced many
Iraqis that the country is already in the throes of a low-level civil war.
On Tuesday, 50 people died in violence that included a double suicide
bombing near busy entrances to the fortified Green Zone, scattered
shootings, mortar attacks, a series of car bombs and the ambush of a bus
with Shiite mourners returning from a burial.
The bodies of 20 people who had been reported abducted from a bus station in
the tense city of Muqdadiya were found in a deserted part of a nearby
village at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Iraqi and American officials said. They
had been blindfolded and shot, with their hands tied behind them, Agence
The victims’ religious affiliations could not immediately be determined, nor
could the motive for the killings, officials said. But a police officer in
Muqdadiya, Amjad Hamid, said that the victims appeared to be Shiites and
that the killings were apparently orchestrated by Sunni insurgents in
retaliation for the abduction and killing of Sunni bus passengers at the
same station hours earlier.
Dozens of armed men from the Mahdi Army, a potent Shiite militia, drove into
the Muqdadiya bus station around 11 a.m. and rounded up 20 Sunni civilians,
Officer Hamid said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. Three bodies
were discovered 500 yards away a short time later, he said.
Then, at about 12:30 p.m., he said, a group of Sunni insurgents stormed into
a Shiite area of that city and seized 25 hostages, including, he said, a
cousin of the provincial governor. He did not know whether they were the
people who Iraqi and American officials said were kidnapped from the bus
station and later killed.
In other violence on Wednesday, a suicide bomber walked into a popular
restaurant in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad early in the
morning and blew himself up, killing 7 people and wounding 31 others, the
Interior Ministry said. Around 11 a.m., a car bomb exploded near a medical
cotton factory in the northern part of the city, killing two civilians and
wounding two others, the ministry said.
A battle also erupted between Iraqi policemen and gunmen in a predominantly
Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing one civilian and one
policeman, said a Baghdad police official, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
In a speech on Tuesday in Washington, the American ambassador to Iraq,
Zalmay Khalilzad, said retributive sectarian violence had overshadowed the
three-year-old Sunni insurgency as the single biggest challenge to the
A similarly blunt assessment, portraying Iraq as a nation on a precipice,
was also offered by Mr. Maliki, who said in his speech to Parliament on
Wednesday morning that his national reconciliation plan was “the only and
last way to save the security and the political situation in this country.”
“We all have this last chance to reconcile and work hard to avoid the
conflict and the blood,” Mr. Maliki added. “If it fails — God forbid — I
don’t know what will be Iraq’s fate.”
Mona Mahmoud, Khalid al-Ansary and Khalid W. Hassan contributed reporting
for this article.