BAGHDAD, Iraq – Attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent during the first three weeks of Ramadan as a U.S. military spokesman said a two-month-old U.S.-Iraqi bid to crush violence in the Iraqi capital has not met "overall expectations."
The assessment came as attacks in the northern cities of Mosul, Kirkut and Khalis killed 38 people, officials reported. Police reported four were killed by bombs in Baghdad, and four policemen were shot to death in Dora. U.S. authorities said two U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday.
The spike in bloodshed during the Islamic holy month of fasting was "disheartening" and the Americans were working with Iraqi authorities to "refocus" security measures, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said.
"In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence," Caldwell said at a weekly news briefing.
The gloomy assessment of the operation, which began Aug. 7 with the deployment of an extra 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops, was issued at a time of perceived tension between the United States and the nearly five-month-old government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Caldwell said, for example, that U.S. forces had been forced to release Mazin al-Sa'edi, a top organizer in western Baghdad for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He said al-Sa'edi was set free on the demand of al-Maliki after being detained Wednesday with five aides for suspected involvement in Shiite militant violence.
Caldwell also said that U.S. forces had entered the city of Balad as early as Oct. 13 after it got word of the early stages of the sectarian killings that swept through the region an hour's drive of Baghdad for four days and left at least 95 people dead, most of them Shiites.
He said control over the city was left in the hands of the Iraqi military, however, and that the Iraqi government had not asked for U.S. assistance. U.S. forces were continuing to patrol the city, which has a major U.S. air base on the outskirts.
In Mosul, police shot to death a homicide bomber driving a truck at high speed toward a police post, said Col. Khalaf Ismail. Although the post was saved, the gunfire ignited fuel and explosives on the truck, killing 12 people and wounding 25 — mostly motorists lined up for gasoline at a nearby service station.
At least two policemen were among the dead, said the station commander, Col. Abed Hamed al-Jibouri said. He said as many as 42 cars were destroyed in the blast and fire.
Authorities imposed a curfew after the attack at 7:15 a.m., but it was lifted nearly six hours later.
Caldwell, however, said the Mosul police station was hit by three homicide car bombs. There was no explanation given for why his account of the bombing was different from that of police.
Elsewhere in Mosul, Caldwell said, two homicide car bombs hit U.S. military convoys. He did not say if there were casualties.
The Kirkuk bombing was aimed at a bank where a crowd of civilians and army soldiers waited to get their wages. Twelve people, including four troops, were killed and a total of 47 were wounded, said Police Brig. Sarhat Qader. The death toll was set to rise because some of the wounded were in serious condition, qader said.
In Khalis, a bomb exploded in a busy market, killing 10 people and wounding 20.
The military also said two U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday, raising the death toll for American troops in October to 72 and putting the month on course to be the bloodiest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.
One soldier died in Anbar province, while the second was killed in a roadside bombing north of Balad.
Mosul and Kirkuk have seen a significant increase in violence in recent weeks as U.S. troops focus on crushing insurgent and militia activity in the center of the country, especially in Baghdad and its environs.
Baghdad police said at least four people were killed and 13 wounded when two roadside bombs went off in the southern Dora district. Also in Dora, gunmen opened fire on a police station, killing four policemen.
A roadside bomb hit a convoy of civilian cars south of Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, killing four and wounding one, police Lt. Mohammed al-Shimmari said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq suffered unspecified losses in clashes with security and tribal forces in Ramadi, the capital of restive Anbar province.
He said up to 60 al-Qaida gunmen arrived Wednesday in the heart of the city in 17 vehicles and remained there for 15 minutes before being forced to flee.
Witnesses in Ramadi confirmed the basics of Khalaf's account, but added that the masked gunmen staged a military-like parade, carrying banners exhorting people to support an Islamic state in Iraq announced Sunday by a militant group. They said mosques in the city used loudspeakers to rally support for the new state.
The Mujahedeen Shura Council — an umbrella organization of insurgent groups that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq — said in a video that it has established an Islamic state made up of six provinces, including Baghdad.
Insurgents are not known to control any territory. However, the Ramadi parade pointed to their growing confidence in a city where U.S. and Iraqi forces have a heavy presence.
But Khalaf sounded confident about the future of Anbar province. "We are comfortable with Anbar," he said. "It will be a safe province in a matter of weeks."
Also Thursday, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Police Brig. Bassem Kadhim outside his home in southwestern Baghdad, said Lt. Muataz Salaheddin.
Police found three bodies in Baghdad's western neighborhood of Jamaa, apparent victims of sectarian killings. They were dumped near an unused rail track and bore signs of torture. All three had gunshot wounds to the head. A woman's body was found in the Dora neighborhood. She was shot in the head and chest.
Meanwhile, al-Maliki said he hoped Saddam Hussein's genocide trial would not last long and that he would quickly be sentenced to death, which would help undermine the insurgency.
Saddam and six co-defendants are on trial for their roles in Operation Anfal, a military offensive against the Kurds in 1987-88. The prosecution says some 180,000 Kurds were killed and hundreds of villages destroyed.
"Definitely, with his execution, those betting on returning to power under the banner of Saddam and the Baath (Party) will loose," al-Maliki said Wednesday in Najaf.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.