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U.S. Military Says Baghdad Security Operation Begins

An Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint in Baghdad on February 6 (epa) February 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military says the much-awaited security "surge" operation in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, has begun.

Major General William Caldwell says U.S. and Iraqi forces have been strengthened in Baghdad and that more troops will be arriving during the coming weeks. The operation is the cornerstone of U.S. President George W. Bush's new initiative to stabilize the country.

The U.S. president announced his new "in a major policy speech on January 10. Since then, there has been uncertainty as to exactly when the security crackdown in the capital would begin.

But the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Major General William Caldwell, said on February 7 that the operation is under way.

As the security operation gets under way, U.S. military officials are stressing that it cannot succeed unless Iraq's political parties also reconcile.

"The plan is being fully implemented as we speak," Caldwell told reporters, adding that "not all aspects are in place at this point."

He said it will not be a "sudden effort," but a "gradual" one.

Nine Security Districts

The announcement that the operation is already in progress surprised some observers.

It comes just a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged his commanders to move more quickly in bringing troops to Baghdad.

But Caldwell said that "portions [of the plan] are already being put in place" and that an Iraqi general, Abud Qanbar, is in overall charge, with U.S. forces playing a supporting role.

"General Abud is in charge, and the American forces, the coalition forces, are truly going to be a supporting arm to assist his security forces within the city," Caldwell said. "He is in charge."

Under the plan, officials have established nine new security districts in Baghdad. The goal is to establish control over the districts progressively and eliminate insurgent and militia groups.

This bus was struck by a suicide bomber in Baghdad today (epa)

Tit-for-tat bombings and executions by armed sectarian militias in Baghdad are occurring on a daily basis.

Police in Baghdad reported finding the bodies of at least 33 men on February 7, all believed to be victims of sectarian killings.

As the security operation gets under way, U.S. military officials are stressing that it cannot succeed unless Iraq's political parties also reconcile.

"You know, the military can do kinetic operations all day long, but kinetic operations are never going to achieve the peace," Caldwell said. "The only way we will achieve peace, that we will gain real stability in this country is through the political process."

A Last Chance?

Some Iraqi politicians are calling the surge operation the last chance to stabilize Iraq.

"This [security] plan is the last-ditch effort by the U.S. administration and the new Iraqi political system," parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni politician, told Reuters on February 7. "If the plan fails, the Iraqi project of the U.S. administration will fail, and the whole Iraqi political project will fall to pieces."

He said the success of the plan depends on "serious and genuine cooperation from the Iraqi people."

Bush has promised 21,500 additional U.S. troops for Baghdad and restive Sunni-majority Al-Anbar Governorate -- the two main centers of violence in Iraq today.

The Iraqi Army is moving three brigades into Baghdad from other areas of the country.

Iraq In Transition

Iraq In Transition

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