BAGHDAD — Just as Americans and Iraqis began to congratulate themselves on a relatively quiet week since U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq's major cities, insurgents Wednesday set off six bombs in Mosul, the biggest city in northern Iraq, killing 14 and wounding 44.
Two of the bombs exploded in adjoining neighborhoods, killing 12 and injuring 28 in one blast and wounding seven in the second. Two others, possibly the bomb-makers, died when a homemade bomb exploded in their car.
No one claimed immediate responsibility for the Mosul bombings, but an audiotape played on an extremist jihadist Web site Wednesday called for attacks on U.S. troops "even if the Americans remain nowhere but a small spot in the Iraqi desert."
Arab-Kurd tensions have risen across northern Iraq, and Mosul has seen an influx of al Qaida in Iraq insurgents for several months. Until the latest attacks, violence had waned throughout the country in the past week, with the exception of a car bomb in Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, on the withdrawal date, which killed 33 and wounded 97.
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Mosul and Kirkuk apart, in the week since June 30, 19 Iraqis were killed and 91 were wounded. During that week a year ago, 20 were killed and 85 wounded, while in 2007, the figures were 55 and 150. The McClatchy Baghdad bureau compiled the numbers in its daily Violence Report.
In June, 15 Americans died in Iraq, down from 29 a year ago and 101 in June 2007, including noncombat-related deaths, according to icasualties.org, an unofficial Web site that tracks American deaths and injuries. During June through July 4, 101 Americans were wounded, down from 143 in the year-earlier period.
Still, top U.S. officials and their Iraqi counterparts said the trends were positive. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington: "We're at a point where the violence level is down dramatically" and "confident we've got the strategy right" as the U.S. military transitions "totally to an advisory and assistance role." Mullen spoke before the most lethal bombs went off in Mosul.
Iraqi officials sounded almost cocky about their ability to handle military operations and other challenges. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and other politicians have been saying that they resent "outside interference" as they try to resolve the thorny political issues that have stymied progress among competing sectarian interests. "The solutions of these issues are best left to Iraqis," said Maliki spokesman Ali al Dabbagh.
In Baghdad Wednesday, where a dreary sandstorm gave way to blue skies, the urban environment improved with the departure of U.S. forces.
Shakir Mahmoud, 34, drives a taxi in Baghdad, often in the International Zone and on Wednesday he carried two passengers through that heavily fortified area where, until recently, American soldiers manned checkpoints and steered their Humvees and 25-ton mine-resistant vehicles on patrols and stalled civilian traffic with long supply convoys.
This week he saw half as many Americans on the streets during the day as last week. Nighttime convoys have dropped by four fifths.
He drove his 1995 white Kia past Landing Zone Washington, a key heliport for embassy and military officials — and there were no American guards. He paralleled the giant fortress of the new U.S. embassy, whose buildings stretch more than a quarter-mile. Like the landing zone, it's guarded by a private security firm.
Where American MPs once manned most of the checkpoints, it was all Iraqi army and national police, except for two forlorn-looking GIs sitting down in the 110-degree heat at a barricade on a bridge leading out of the zone. The only other Americans the taxi driver had seen were three soldiers at lunchtime, heading into a fast-food eatery on the outskirts of the zone.
One Sadr City resident, 31-year-old Hashim Ammar, saw a U.S. patrol near a downtown square at 4 a.m. Wednesday. "But that's still better because they used to block the streets when they'd pass," he said.
The U.S.-led Multi-National Security Transition Team Command/Iraq said in a statement that it's lowered its public profile. "Although the public may see them less often," the statement continued, advisers and trainers will continue to work with the Iraqi National Police to make sure it becomes "a professional force operating under the rule of law."
(Tharp reports for the Merced Sun-Star. Grace Chung contributed to this article from Washington. McClatchy special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy, Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa contributed from Baghdad.)
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