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Violence on the rise in Baghdad as U.S. drawdown continues

BAGHDAD - Two bombs and a rocket attack struck the Iraqi capital on Monday, just weeks before the final pullout of American forces from the country.

The explosions brought to 100 the number of people killed in the capital so far in November, up from 62 in October.

The deadliest blast - a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber - killed at least 11 people and wounded 26 others at the entrance to al-Hoot prison in north Baghdad, security officials said.

Hours later, a magnetic bomb attached to a civilian car exploded near the Baghdad International Fair Ground in central Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding four.

A rocket slammed into the fortified Green Zone that houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government's offices just after 4 p.m. The rocket struck in a parking lot near the city's convention center, which houses the Iraqi parliament. No casualties were reported.

The attacks fed concerns that violence will rise after U.S. forces are withdrawn. The deadline for all American military troops to be out of Iraq is Dec. 31, though it's thought likely that the American withdrawal will be completed before then. Fewer than 20,000 American forces remain in Iraq.

Iraqis offered a variety of explanations for the attacks.

Ahmed Abbawi, a baker in Baghdad's Karrada district, blamed former members of the outlawed Baath party of Saddam Hussein and predicted they would make an effort to take control of Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

"It is their best chance," he said. "The government is not really in control. I can't say for sure that the (Iraqi security) forces will be able to manage the situation. The situation is frightening."

Violence has tapered off since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, but it is still a near-daily occurrence.

Anees Majid, a college student, fears that Iran will be the biggest challenge after the American military is finally gone.

"With more than 100,000 soldiers in Iraq, America was not able to stop Iran from taking over Iraq," Majid said. "It is true that Iran is a neighbor and that we respect it, but this is our country and it is we who should be running it, not Iran. I am afraid that there might be more killing in order to control the Iraqi people, and we would be back to square one."

Despite the violence, Iraqi security officials say there is no reason to be concerned.

"I am positive that internal security is under control. Our forces have had many years' experience now," said Adnan al-Asadi, a deputy interior minister. Still, he acknowledged that many members of the security forces have links to armed groups, both Sunni and Shiite.
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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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In this series from August, 2010, as the American military presence in Iraq was being reduced, Stars and Stripes looked at the costs of the war through the eyes of Iraqis and Americans and asked: What difference did we really make?