BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi security forces planned to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers in Baghdad Wednesday as part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ambitious plan to crack down on security in the capital, a top Iraqi police official said.
The prime minister said late last month that he had a plan to restore order for the capital's 6 million residents, who have suffered the most from suicidal killers, roadside bombs and sectarian death squads. But he was hamstrung for weeks by political infighting.
With new defense and interior ministers finally in place, al-Maliki said in a news release dated Monday but released Tuesday that he would be ready to formally unveil his plan within the next two days.
The Shiite prime minister said the plan will include securing roads into and out of Baghdad, banning people from carrying weapons and implementing a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew, but he did not provide more details.
Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharrawi, the commander of public order forces under the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that the plan would launched at 6 a.m. Wednesday, with 75,000 Iraqi and multinational forces deployed in Baghdad. He said it would be the biggest operation of its kind in Baghdad since the U.S. handed over sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004.
He also warned insurgents were likely to step up activity ahead of the security crack down and as revenge for last week's death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He said the ground forces could call in air cover if needed.
"We are expecting clashes will erupted in the predominantly Sunni areas," he said. "The terrorists will escalate their violence especially during the first week as revenge for the killing of al-Zarqawi."
He also said "Baghdad is divided according to geographical area and we know the Al Qaeda leaders in each area."
Iraqis have complained of random violence and detentions by Iraqi forces, especially the police, which are widely believed to have been infiltrated by so-called sectarian death squads, and the government has indicated it plans to introduce a single uniform to distinguish legitimate forces.
Al-Gharrawi said there were plans for such a uniform in the coming days.
"There will be a special uniform with special badges to be put on the vehicles as a sign that it belongs to our forces," he said, adding the prime minister would decide when to end the crackdown.
Iraqi army Brig. Jalil Khalaf also said the plan would include more checkpoints and raids against suspected insurgent hideouts.
"The terrorists cannot face such power," he said.