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Originally published August 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 19, 2007 at 2:08 AM

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Missiles, mortars end respite from Iraq attacks

Missiles and mortars struck areas of Baghdad and central Iraq on Saturday where violence and civilian deaths had decreased in recent weeks...

Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD — Missiles and mortars struck areas of Baghdad and central Iraq on Saturday where violence and civilian deaths had decreased in recent weeks, raising concerns that insurgents were adapting their strategy to get around an increase in U.S. troops.

At least 14 Iraqis were killed, including seven in a mortar barrage aimed at a Shiite residential area north of Baghdad in the town of Khalis. Car bombs killed four people in Kirkuk, where a policeman was shot to death earlier in the day, and two died in a missile attack on a village near Ramadi.

The Ramadi attack unleashed panic in an area that had been relatively peaceful in recent weeks, said Juma Salim, a 62-year-old farmer who claimed that the presence of U.S. troops provoked the violence.

Kirkuk has suffered a rash of attacks since insurgents began fleeing the U.S.-led crackdown in Baghdad. Gunmen there killed an Iraqi police lieutenant, and three apparently coordinated car bombs killed four shoppers in a marketplace, including a 4-year-old. Forty-six people were injured.

The attacks spurred further sweeps against suspected insurgent hide-outs in which U.S.-led troops killed two and detained 16, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq.

American officials say they have captured dozens of key insurgents and disrupted their operations in campaigns launched in the last two months as the increase in U.S. troops has allowed more concerted moves against hot spots such as Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the west and south.

But as violence in those areas has eased, car bombs and small-arms fire increasingly have been directed against Iraqis in more distant areas. On Thursday, synchronized truck bombings in three far-northern villages killed as many as 400 people of the minority Yazidi sect.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also says Sunni tribal leaders have begun collaborating with the government and police to restore order in their communities. "These are all the fruits of the reconciliation process," the Shiite prime minister said after a visit to Sunni leaders in Tikrit, which was Saddam Hussein's power base.

In Baghdad, the capital, President Jalal Talabani played host to another gathering of political leaders aimed at reconciling factions in the government. Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi, who boycotted a meeting earlier in the week, attended the gathering. Talabani's office said progress had been made.

U.S. officials acknowledge that Iraqi leaders' inability to work together effectively has hampered efforts to stabilize the country and hand off responsibility for its defense and administration to Iraqis.

"Ugly" British exit from Basra feared

LONDON — An adviser to the U.S. military said British troops face an "ugly and embarrassing" withdrawal from southern Iraq in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

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Stephen Biddle, a military analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations who was part of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

The Sunday Times also quoted a senior British officer as saying British troops have lost control of the main southern city of Basra.

The Times quoted the British Ministry of Defense as saying Britain was not heading for defeat. "Although the militias are trying to claim credit for 'driving us out,' they are failing," the ministry was quoted as saying.

British forces have already been moving from a combat role to aiding Iraqi forces in southern Iraq, and Britain is expected to hand over control of Basra to Iraqi troops in the next few months.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also promised to make a statement in October on the future of the 5,500 British troops in the region.

A total of 168 British personnel have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

The Associated Press

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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