June 14, 2006

Iraq tightens Baghdad security after Bush visit

By Omar al-Ibadi and Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi troops set up extra checkpoints
and a tank patrolled a violent area in Baghdad on Wednesday,
but there were few signs of a major crackdown announced by the
government to root out militants.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have carried out several such
operations in the past but have failed to stem the violence.

Hours after the clampdown began a car bomb targeting a
police patrol killed at least two people and wounded seven in
northern Baghdad. The capital and the rest of the country was

In the western Mansour district, a Reuters correspondent
saw additional army checkpoints backed by armored vehicles. In
strife-torn Amiriya, a religiously mixed area which has seen
frequent clashes between Sunni Arab insurgents and U.S. and
Iraqi forces, a Reuters reporter saw one Iraqi tank deployed.

The Iraqi government on Tuesday said the operation would
involve more than 40,000 Iraqi and U.S.-led forces as part of a
sweep to put further pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq following the
killing of its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last week.

The sweep was announced the day before President Bush met
with new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is under pressure
to rein in an insurgency that has killed tens of thousands and
pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

In a surprise visit to Iraq, Bush, who faces low popularity
ratings over a war that has killed nearly 2,500 U.S. troops,
told Maliki the fate and future of Iraq was "in your hands."

"The decisions you and your cabinet make will determine as
to whether or not your country succeeds, can govern itself, can
defend itself, can sustain itself," Bush told Maliki, whose
self-styled government of national unity took office last


With a population of seven million people, Baghdad has been
the scene of almost daily car bombs and kidnappings.

As of mid-morning, Reuters reporters across Baghdad saw few
evidence of additional troops in the dangerous, mostly Sunni
areas of Dora and Adhamiya, where the government said it would
focus most of its security efforts.

As Bush talked to Iraqi leaders in the heavily fortified
Green Zone on Tuesday, a Web statement said al Qaeda's new
leader in Iraq had vowed to avenge the killing of Zarqawi.

"The day of vengeance is near and your strong towers in the
Green Zone will not protect you," said the statement, posted on
an Internet site often used by Islamist militants and signed by
the new leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have hailed the killing of
Zarqawi, a Sunni Arab like most guerrillas in Iraq, as a major
blow to al Qaeda militants while cautioning it will not end

"There are going to be tough days ahead, and more sacrifice
for Americans, as well as Iraqis," Bush told U.S. troops.

"Our military will stay on the offensive. We will continue
to hunt down people like Mr. Zarqawi, and bring them to
justice," he said to applause.

Iraqi officials said the clampdown would include increased
checkpoints and patrols in what was billed as one of the
biggest such operations since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"It is an operation to step up pressure on al Qaeda in
Baghdad," national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told
state television on Tuesday.

"There is no time limit for ending this operation because
it is a strategic plan through which we are determined to
impose order in tense areas," Major General Abdel Aziz
Mohammed, a senior Defense Ministry official, told Reuters.

Security concerns meant Bush's journey to Baghdad, his
second trip to the country since U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam,
was top secret and many of his own aides, and even Maliki, were
kept in the dark.

Maliki said his government was determined to defeat the
insurgents so U.S. and other forces could withdraw.

"God willing all the suffering will be over, all the
soldiers will return to their countries with our gratitude, for
what they have offered, the sacrifices," he said.

(Baghdad newsroom, editing by Matthew Bigg))