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General Blames Iranian-Backed Militants for Baghdad Explosion

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2008 – An explosion yesterday that killed at least 27 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Hurriyah district likely was the work of Iranian-backed “special groups,” a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, called the attack -- which also wounded 40 people in the primarily Shiite Muslim area -- a “senseless and troubling event.”

More information will be available in the days ahead as Iraqi investigators sift through the rubble, Bergner said at a news conference. But initial work with the truck and the explosives and have concluded that a special-groups criminal cell was responsible, he said.

“It indicates a desire to incite sectarian conflict and backlash,” Bergner said. “We will learn more as the investigation continues.”

Coalition forces are working with Iraqi authorities to investigate the circumstances of the attack and to assist in their efforts to find those who perpetrated the attack, the general told reporters.

Operations continue in the major Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is directing Iraqi forces in operations designed to reinforce the rule of law throughout the nation, Bergner said.

In the past week, Iraqi security forces conducted 10 battalion-sized security operations in Mosul and three more in the rest of Ninevah province, Bergner said. Iraqi army units also moved through 16 sectors in the Sadr City area of Baghdad and discovered more than 30 arms caches. This brings to 188 the number of weapons stockpiles found since operations intensified in Sadr City last month, he said.

The Iraqi government is ramping up efforts to provide civil services to the people. Iraqi medical personnel have provided free health clinics in Basra and in neighborhoods of Baghdad, the general said, and Iraqi government officials have refurbished water treatment plants, schools and community swimming pools.

“As security improves, dedicated Iraqi leaders, civil servants, soldiers, police officers and citizen volunteers are working each day to build upon these gains,” Bergner said. “Coalition forces continue to work closely with them and will continue to partner in ways to revitalize the economy, restore agricultural capabilities and improve the availability of services.”

The Iraqi security forces now number about 559,000. Average Iraqis are growing more confident that the security forces can maintain security and are giving more tips to the soldiers and police about enemy operatives and their activities, Bergner said.

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