The U.S. military said Sunday that the number of attacks by militants in the last week dropped to a level not seen in Iraq since March 2004.
About 300 violent incidents were recorded in the seven-day period that ended Friday, down from a weekly high of nearly 1,600 in mid-June last year, according to a chart provided by the military.
The announcement appeared aimed at allaying fears that an uprising by militiamen loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr could unravel security gains since 28,500 additional American troops were deployed in Iraq in a buildup that reached its height in June.
Navy Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a military spokesman, credited the decrease to a series of operations launched by the Iraqi government in the last two months to extend control over parts of the country that have been under the sway of armed Sunni Arab and Shiite militants. They include crackdowns in the southern oil hub of Basra, the northern city of Mosul and Baghdad’s Sadr City district.
The late March operation in Basra triggered a fierce backlash by Sadr’s militiamen in Sadr City and across the overwhelmingly Shiite south, drawing in British and American forces.
The number of attacks nationwide rose to about 850 in the week that the Basra crackdown began, according to the military’s chart. The figure has ebbed and flowed since then.
The fighting in southern Iraq subsided a week after it started when a truce was reached between Sadr’s movement and the main Shiite factions in Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government. Violence also has dropped in Sadr City since another deal was signed May 12, clearing the way for Iraqi troops to deploy throughout the heavily populated district, which is a bastion of Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. But clashes have persisted in other sections of the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi forces are confronting Sadr’s militia.
The offensive against Sunni insurgents in Mosul has met with little resistance. Maliki’s government had been promising a crackdown there since January, and many fighters are believed to have fled the city before it began. But Iraqi military officials say more than 1,000 suspects have been detained in Mosul. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker was quoted in wire service reports as saying Saturday that Al Qaeda in Iraq, a mostly homegrown militant group that American officials say is foreign-led, has “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”
Driscoll agreed at a news conference that “they certainly are off-balance and on the run.” But he cautioned that the group remained a “very lethal threat.”
He said the number of attacks nationwide had declined 70% since the peak of the troop buildup. Most of the additional forces are expected to leave Iraq by the end of July.