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Maliki ventures out in Baghdad

From Times Wire Services

Flanked by guards armed with submachine guns, Iraq’s prime minister on Friday ventured out of the Green Zone to tour parts of Baghdad, chatting with bystanders and police to demonstrate that a U.S.-led security crackdown is making progress.

But north of the capital, insurgents attacked a police station, killing one officer, wounding three and leaving 10 missing, a police source said.

The source said a group of insurgents stormed the station in Hibhib, in Diyala province, setting fire to vehicles and destroying the building.

There were fears that the 10 missing officers might have been kidnapped.

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Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled in a U.S.-Iraqi convoy to a power station in south Baghdad to watch renovation work. On the way back, he stopped at police checkpoints along the Mohammed Qasim highway, shaking hands with police and soldiers.

At one point, Maliki’s Iraqi bodyguards parted to allow him to stoop and kiss the foreheads of children.

Maliki’s office had released no advance details of the outing because of safety concerns, but it issued photos and video afterward.

That the prime minister was able to venture out at all testified to the modest improvements in security in the capital since the crackdown began last month.

On Friday, police found 10 bodies across the city, apparent victims of sectarian killings. Last January, the daily toll was higher than 50.

The decline in execution-style slayings is believed to be a result of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s decision to pull his fighters off the streets to avoid a showdown with U.S. troops during the security operation.

Maliki attributed the decline to the operation.

“The terrorist cells are being dismantled and operations will continue until we put an end to this dangerous plight that threatens the unity and the prosperity of the people,” the prime minister said.

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“The Baghdad security plan will be accelerated by increasing the numbers of troops imposing security,” Maliki said.

“This operation will be accelerated at all levels, in numbers and weaponry. We will not back down.”


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