PRAGUE, June 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) – The newly formed Iraqi government today visibly stepped up the presence of Iraqi Army soldiers on the streets of the capital, Baghdad. It has also extended the hours of curfew and banned unauthorized citizens from carrying guns outside their homes.
The measures, introduced one day after they were announced, are to reassure the capital's residents of the new government's determination to tackle insurgents, to crack down on warring Sunni and Shi'a militiamen, and to reduce crime.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says his new initiative will "provide security and confront terrorism and ... enable Iraqis to live in peace in Baghdad."
He also promised the security forces would be "very tough" and would show "no mercy toward those who show no mercy to our people."
Today the increased security presence in the streets is clear, with more checkpoints, longer queues of cars at checkpoints, and more troops visible on the streets.
However, some groups of gunmen have resisted the security sweep, with some violence reported in the north of Baghdad, particularly in the Al-Adhamiya district, where gunmen and security forces clashed. The Al-Adhamiya district is considered to be an insurgent stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in the capital.
Clear Rules, Unclear Enemies
The new security campaign, dubbed "Going Forward Together," is the first such initiative launched by the new government since it took office a month ago.
The government said on July 13 that operation will involve more than 40,000 Iraqi and U.S.-led forces. U.S. forces are, however, reported to be taking a low-profile role.
The operation comes just a week after U.S. forces killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mu'sab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi's successor, identified as Abu Hamza al-Mujahir, is reported to have vowed revenge and to defeat "crusaders" and Shi'a" in Iraq.
A key aspect of the operation will be to reduce the number of unauthorized -- and often unidentifiable -- men carrying guns in the city.
General Abd al-Aziz Mohammad Jassem, Iraq's combined-forces operations chief, said that "anybody on the street, in his car or in his shop caught with a weapon, any kind of weapon, will be considered a terrorist" and "will be killed or captured."
Ordinary Iraqis say the problem of unknown, armed men roaming Baghdad cannot be overstated.
The gunmen include not only insurgents and criminals but also members of armed forces associated with various government ministries. The guards are often recruited from members or sympathizers of the armed wings of the political party that holds the ministry.
Elements in some of these forces are suspected of taking part in the tit-for-tat violence between Sunni and Shi'ite militias.
Doubts About The New Measures
It is unclear how the new security operation can crack down on such forces given their close ties to ruling parties.
Major General Mahdi al-Gharrawi, the commander of public order forces under the Interior Ministry, has however said there are plans for a single uniform to distinguish legitimate security officers.
As part of the security campaign, the nighttime curfew in the capital is being extended by two and-a-half hours, to run from 8:30 p.m. until 6 a.m. In effect, Baghdad residents must now remain indoors from dusk to dawn.
The exact number of people who die in Baghdad daily from insurgent attacks, sectarian killings, and shootings and kidnappings by criminal gangs is unknown.
But the scale of the killing is suggested by the number of bodies brought to Baghdad's central morgue.
Doctors at the morgue at Bab al-Mu'atham, near the city center, say they have been receiving more than 1,000 bodies each month this year.
A doctor at the morgue, Kais Hassan, says that is three to five times higher than the number received prior to 2003, when U.S.-led forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.