BAGHDAD, Iraq – Rescue crews pulled bodies from the rubble of bombed buildings Friday, the day after a barrage of coordinated attacks across eastern Baghdad neighborhoods killed at least 64 people and wounded 286 within half an hour, police said.
The latest spasm of violence on Thursday evening — which included explosives planted in apartments, car bombs and several rocket and mortar attacks on mainly Shiite neighborhoods — came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces should have control over most of the country by year's end.
Iraqi security forces plan to expand into those eastern neighborhoods and others in the area as early as next week as part of a security crackdown in the capital, Defense Ministry spokesman Muhammad Al-Askari told Iraqi state TV.
Dubbed "Operation Together Forward," the operation has been moving through Baghdad's most violent districts and problematic neighborhoods in phases.
It includes 12,000 extra Iraqi and coalition troops targeting specific problematic neighborhoods in the capital.
Al-Askari said a sweep through some of the neighborhoods that were attacked Thursday could start as early as next week.
"We included these districts in the third phase of the Baghdad security plan. There were priorities according to the surge of violence and the intelligence information, from interior and defense ministries and multinational forces, so the third phase that will start soon and include" them, he said.
According to al-Askari, it will include Shiite strongholds such as New Baghdad, Habibya and Sadr City.
"The third phase will start soon, maybe next week or after. We have prepared everything , but we are waiting to mobilize the troops and prepare the special military units that will implement the raids," he added.
He said the second phase — which began in early August and included Sunni Arab districts, such as southern Dora, and al-Askari — was successful. The first phase, consisting mostly patrols around the city, began in mid-July.
Despite the rash of violence during the past week, U.S. officials have lauded the security crackdown in the capital that they say has resulted in a dramatic fall in sectarian killings.
Statistics obtained by The Associated Press from the Health Ministry show that violent deaths in Iraq dropped significantly in August compared to July. At least 973 violent deaths were recorded as of Wednesday in August, while 3,500 were reported in July.
Meanwhile, a mortar attack on an open-air market in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, on Friday killed three people and wounded 12, an Iraqi army official said.
On the outskirts of Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, a bomb explosion damaged an oil pipeline, cutting supplies to a major electricity station.
Police said no one was injured, but electricity authorities in Babil province warned of longer power cuts in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Hillah and Diwaniyah.
Power in those cities would now be out for six hour stretches and turned on for two hours rather than the previous four hours off and two hours on.
Iraqis have faced severe fuel shortages since Saddam Hussein's 2003 ouster, and insurgents have frequently targeted pipelines and oil refineries.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in Iraq with a Congressional delegation, met with Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, according to a statement from al-Zubaie's office.
"Achieving peace and security and putting an end to violence is still possible despite the big challenges facing the government," al-Zubaie said after the meeting.
The attacks Thursday in Baghdad centered on neighborhoods controlled by Shiite militias, some of which Sunni Arabs accuse of running death squads.
Attackers rented apartments and shops in buildings a few days ago and planted explosives in them, detonating the devices by remote control almost simultaneously Thursday evening, Maj. Gen. Jihad Liaabi, director of the Interior Ministry's counterterrorism unit, told state television Thursday.
The attacks included a car bomb at a market, another behind a telephone exchange building and several rocket and mortar attacks, police said.
On Friday morning, residents picked through the rubble of their homes, using blankets to carry their belongings out. Large chunks of concrete and burned out cars littered the street.
Kindi hospital — one of four where the wounded and dead were taken — received dozens of casualties.
The bloodshed was part of a violent week that has left hundreds of Iraqis dead.
An al-Qaida-affiliated group on Thursday issued a statement saying that Shiite-led attacks on Sunni people in northern Baghdad, including kidnappings, mortar attacks and assassination attempts, were intensifying.
The statement appeared on a Web site used by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni extremist groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq.
The statement described reconciliation attempts by the Iraqi government with unspecified groups that agreed to lay down their arms as "futile" and called on Sunnis to fight those who "legalized the shedding of Muslim blood."
Despite the violence, Iraqi authorities are optimistic about the handover of security control, with their forces taking responsibility for southern Dhi Qar province this month, making it the second of Iraq's 18 provinces to given over.
U.S. authorities also said the Defense Ministry would begin assuming direct operational control of the country's armed forces following a ceremony Saturday.
In other violence across the country Friday, according to the police:
—Iraqi police found the body of Kamil Shateb, a former intelligence officer during Saddam Hussein's regime, in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, a morgue official said. He had been kidnapped the day before and shot in the head.
—Gunmen shot and killed a policeman in Numaniyah, a town near Kut, after breaking into his house Thursday night.
—A policeman was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.