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Violence Returns to Baghdad
Agence France-Presse  |  September 29, 2006
Insurgents murdered at least 15 Iraqis on Thursday as U.S. military intelligence warned that militias are re-infiltrating previously cleared neighborhoods while local police turn a blind eye.

A minibus packed with explosives drove into an army post in the largely Shiite Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, killing two Iraqi soldiers in an area near where U.S. forces had recently conducted a comprehensive security sweep.

Meanwhile, a double bomb attack in the city centre killed seven people and wounded 35 more, hospital medics said, while a car bomb near a police investigation department killed one officer and wounded four civilians.

Iraq's migration ministry said the violence was driving increasing numbers of people from their homes, with 40,000 families or just under half a million people now seeking shelter or new accommodation around the country.

Fighting raged on as a coalition intelligence official told reporters that illegal armed groups were returning to Baghdad areas once deemed to have been secured by a massive joint U.S. and Iraqi security operation.

Worse, he said there is evidence that the Iraqi police units left behind after military forces move through the areas are collaborating with death squads, whose victims' corpses lie scattered through Baghdad every morning.

"The pattern we have tended to see is that as we've cleared areas, the numbers of murders and executions have decreased in most sectors," the officer said.

However, he admitted that in some places the violence has returned.

"We would ascribe that to probably some measure of some elements in MOI (Ministry of Interior) facilitating the re-entry of folks into the secure area," said the intelligence official referring to militia death squads.

The number two U.S. military commander in Iraq emphasized Wednesday that the government had to deal with the militias, which have close ties with some of the parties in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition government.

"We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraqi security forces, but I also have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," said Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli.

The Shaab bombing, which also wounded 11 soldiers and a civilian, is part of what coalition spokesman Major General Caldwell described Wednesday as a spike in suicide attacks, which are now at their highest level ever in Iraq.

The first week of Ramadan has also seen a rise in the kind of kidnappings and killings generally attributed to Shiite death squads.

Police reported finding another 15 corpses on Thursday morning, following the discovery of several dozen the day before. West Baghdad's Yarmuk hospital reported receiving another four bodies.

Despite the role of U.S. forces in attempting to stabilize the country, however, recent polls conducted in Iraq have a majority of the population calling for the swift withdrawal of coalition troops.

A poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland had 78 percent of respondents saying they thought the U.S. presence in Iraq provokes more conflict than it prevents.

Support for attacks on U.S. troops has also increased considerably: 61 percent approve of the attacks, up from 47 percent in January, according to the poll.

A separate internal U.S. State Department poll quoted by the Washington Post had similar results: nearly three-quarters of Baghdadis would feel safer if U.S. and foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent supporting an immediate pullout.

Iraq's leadership, however, has consistently stated that coalition forces are in the country with their permission and are necessary for stability.

Northeast of Baghdad, in restive Diyala province, a policeman was killed and his brother wounded when gunmen riddled their car with bullets in Muqdadiyah.

In the provincial seat of Baquba itself, two shopkeepers, a fruit seller, a day laborer and a policeman were shot dead in separate incidents.

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