US military: Iraq attacks down nearly 60 percent
High-profile attacks in Iraq have fallen nearly 60 percent in the past year, the U.S. military said on Sunday, though violence continues to plague the northern city of Mosul, where a suicide car bomber targeting an American convoy killed one Iraqi and wounded 45 others.
Mosul is considered the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, and Sunday's attack comes as military operations are being conducted there before a June 30 deadline for U.S. forces to pull out of Iraq's cities.
The Iraqi government has said that deadline will not be extended, despite concerns by American military commanders that Iraqi forces may not be ready to take on security for Mosul.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. David Perkins said Sunday that high-profile attacks _ those involving a high number of casualties _ have fallen 58 percent from last March and more than 50 percent from a month ago.
There were 28 high-profile attacks in April and 13 so far this month, Perkins said. Those April attacks killed about 235 people and raised fears that the security gains of the past two years were eroding.
Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, insisted Iraq's security forces were ready to take over as U.S. forces leave Iraq's cities.
"We are confident that Iraqi security forces are able to eliminate the remaining terrorist groups despite desperate acts by them to destabilize the situation," he told reporters during a joint U.S.-Iraqi briefing in Baghdad.
Perkins said the two sides were still working out the details of the June 30 withdrawal, but said some U.S. noncombat personnel would remain inside Iraq's cities.
"It is justified to be concerned because, historically, transition has been a vulnerable period," he said. Perkins said the two sides were working closely to try to minimize attacks during the transition.
President Barack Obama has announced the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 30,000 to 50,000 troops in advisory roles. Those remaining troops must leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Despite numerous U.S.-Iraqi military operations, Sunni insurgents remain active in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, and in Diyala province south of Mosul.
Lt. Col. David Doherty, a military spokesman, said initial reports showed 38 people were injured and one other was killed in Sunday's suicide bombing. He said there were no reports of American casualties.
An Iraqi hospital official said 45 civilians were wounded. An Iraqi police official said 34 were wounded and no one was killed. Conflicting casualty numbers are common in Iraq in the aftermath of an attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. The U.S. military also announced the arrest of a suspected female ringleader of a group believed responsible for recruiting women to be suicide bombers.
In a statement released Sunday, the military said the woman was arrested in Baghdad on Saturday.
Also Sunday, the country's Sunni vice president stepped down as leader of his party, whose influence within the Sunni community has been diminishing.
Tarek al-Hashemi was replaced as leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party by Osama Tawfiq al-Tikriti, the party announced. Parliament speaker Ayad al-Sammaraie was chosen deputy party leader. A party official said al-Hashemi stepped down to devote more time to his duties as one of the country's two vice presidents. Another official said the party wanted new faces to help restore its image. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the party.
The party controls 18 seats in the 275-member parliament and had been a leading political force within the Sunni community. But it faces major challenges from new Sunni alliances emerging ahead of next January's parliament elections.
This month the party was embarrassed when the imprisoned leader of an al-Qaida front group said in a televised confession that the terror movement had tied with some members of the party. Elsewhere, the Iraqi defense minister said the criminal court would investigate a U.S. raid in Kut in April that ended with at least one woman dead.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the raid a violation of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, which requires American troops to have Iraqi approval for any raids conducted in the country. The U.S. military denied it overstepped its bounds and said it notified Iraqi authorities in advance.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi trade minister, who is mired in a corruption scandal, will face a no-confidence vote by parliament, said Sabah al-Saedi, the chairman of the parliamentary integrity committee. Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani appeared before parliament earlier this month to respond to corruption allegations against several senior ministry officials and two of his brothers who serve as security guards.
Al-Saedi has accused the minister's two brothers of skimming off at least $40 million in kickbacks on imports.