Iraqi military commanders signaled Monday that they would soon remove some roadblocks and other restrictions that had been imposed over the past nine months as part of the effort to reduce violence here in the capital.
However, with tens of thousands of American troops likely to remain on the streets of Baghdad for some time, the announcement appears to have been made by the Iraqi leadership to show its constituents that it wants to change the emphasis of the nine-month security operation from the military crackdown of its earlier stages to providing vital utilities and social services to the Baghdad population.
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi spokesman for the operation, which began Feb. 14, said a recent decline in violence would allow the government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki to begin handing control of some areas of the city from soldiers to local police units.
“The first phase of the operation was represented by the deployment of military units,” Moussawi said. “The second stage is purging the areas, securing them, bringing back displaced families and providing them with services. The last stage will be to hand over security responsibilities.”
He said, “We are in the phase of handing over the security responsibility from the army and national police to the local police of these areas.”
An American spokesman in Baghdad said that the U.S. military had no comment. American commanders have made it clear that while the threat from Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia has been reduced in some areas, the group, which consists of homegrown extremists who American intelligence agencies say are foreign led, is by no means a spent force.
Last month Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, said the military must “keep the pressure on very, very intensely.”
A U.S. Embassy official, cautiously citing recent reports of a decline in suicide attacks, car bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad, said: “Clearly, these comments do reflect the improving security situation on the ground. There are certainly more challenges ahead, but there are a number of positive developments in many spheres, including in Baghdad.”
On Monday evening, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Ezi, commander of the 1st Division of the Iraqi National Police, who is involved in the Baghdad security effort, said about a dozen streets would be reopened as part of the easing of restrictions.
“Baghdadis will start to see a reduction of military presence in Baghdad,” he said. “Civilian services is the second step of the plan, and it will start after the ending of the military part of this plan.”
Meanwhile, in Diyala province, the Iraqi police in the town of Khalis said they had arrested five Iranians, including one woman, who were found to have entered the country without proper documentation. American military officials in Baghdad said they were investigating the report.