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BAGHDAD — The U.S. military’s top spokesman in Iraq said Thursday the nation is not on the verge of civil war and that acts of ethnic and religious violence had dropped by more than half in the last week — the lowest incidence of such violence since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra two months ago.

“We don’t see us moving toward civil war in Iraq,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch at a weekly news conference in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. “In fact, we see us moving away from civil war.”

Lynch said military commanders were keeping an eye on four “indicators” of possible civil war. Those indicators included forced and voluntary migrations of ethnic and religious groups as well as widespread sectarian violence.

To date, most of the violence between Shiite and Sunni Iraqis had occurred in the nation’s capital, and had not spread to outlying provinces, Lynch said.

Even in Baghdad, though, this violence was “on the downslide,” Lynch said. Reports of sectarian violence had dropped 60 percent since last week, the general reported.

Lynch said that while there were claims that more than 36,000 Iraqis had fled ethnic strife in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah, Kut, Nasiriyah and Basra, the U.S. military has not found evidence of this. Lynch said that coalition troops had investigated reports of 16 camps established to shelter displaced families, but had found only four.

“We have seen some displacement, pockets of it, but not large numbers,” Lynch said. “We’re not seeing it at a rate that causes us alarm.”

Lynch said that recent efforts to establish a national unity government argued against a brewing civil war as well.

Despite the reported drop in episodes of sectarian violence, attacks on Iraqi civilians by insurgents had increased 90 percent in the last 10 weeks — part of an effort to instigate a civil war, Lynch said. The spike in violence was due to the insurgent efforts to intimidate the people of Iraq at a time when officials were making headway in the formation of a government, he said.

Lynch said that insurgent leaders, such as Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were looking to “pull out all the stops” at this time of government progress.

“The enemy has a vote,” Lynch said.

The general said this was the reason also why al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaida in Iraq, on Tuesday released a videotape for the first time in almost two years. In it, al-Zarqawi urged unity among his supporters and violence against the U.S.-led effort.

“This is an act of desperation. He knows he’s in his final hours,” Lynch said. “Democracy equals failure for Zarqawi.”

Coalition troops were working hard to combat insurgent attacks in Baghdad in particular, and Lynch said that the ongoing Operation Scales of Justice had succeeded in reducing violence by 10 percent in the last week.

Lynch said that at any given moment, 90 coalition patrols were active in the city of Baghdad, and that soldiers were finding more and more roadside bombs before they detonated on convoys and patrols.

Lynch said that in October of last year, coalition troops had found and cleared 34 percent of all roadside bombs in the capital. Today, the figure is 46 percent.


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