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PM: Fewer bombings in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP)— Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday suicide attacks and other bombings in the Iraqi capital have dropped dramatically since last year’s high, calling it a sign of the end of sectarian violence. A top U.S. general here said he believes the drop is sustainable, as Iraqis turn away from extremists.

Al-Maliki said “terrorist acts” including car bombings and other spectacular, al-Qaida-style attacks dropped by 77 percent. He called it a sign that Sunni-Shiite violence was nearly gone from Baghdad.

“We are all realizing now that what Baghdad was seeing every day — dead bodies in the streets and morgues — is ebbing remarkably,” al-Maliki said at his office in the U.S.-guarded Green Zone.

“This is an indication that sectarianism intended as a gate of evil and fire in Iraq is now closed,” he said.

Before the arrival of nearly 30,000 U.S. reinforcements this past spring, explosions shook Baghdad daily — sometimes hourly. The whiz of mortar and rocket fire crisscrossing the Tigris River was frequent. And the pop-pop of gunfire beat out a constant, somber rhythm of killing.

Now the sounds of warfare are rare. U.S. troops have set up small outposts in some of the capital’s most dangerous enclaves.

Locals previously lukewarm to the presence of U.S. soldiers patrol alongside them. And a historic lane on the eastern banks of the Tigris is set to reopen later this year, lined with seafood restaurants and an art gallery.

U.S. assessment

Al-Maliki’s assessment Sunday matched those of U.S. military officials, and is borne out by Associated Press figures that show a sharp drop in the number of U.S. and Iraqi deaths in the past few months.

The number of Iraqi civilians who meet violent deaths dropped from at least 1,023 in September to at least 905 in October, according to an AP count.

The number of American military deaths fell from 65 to at least 39 during the same period.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces south of the capital, said Sunday he believed the decrease would hold, because of what he called a “groundswell” of support from regular Iraqis.

“If we didn’t have so many people coming forward to help, I’d think this is a flash in the pan. But that’s just not the case,” Lynch told a small group of reporters over lunch in the Green Zone.

He attributed the sharp drop in attacks to the American troop buildup, the setup of small outposts at the heart of Iraqi communities, and help from locals fed up with al-Qaida and other extremists.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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