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US commander says Qaeda still a threat in Iraq

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 6, 2010
A senior US commander said on Saturday that Al-Qaeda's ability to infiltrate foreign fighters into Iraq had been severely restricted, but that it was still a threat and would remain so.

Brigadier General Jeffrey Buchanan said that a deadly attack in Baghdad targeting Christians and explosions in Shiite neighbourhoods across the capital over the past week demonstrated that Al-Qaeda remained deadly.

The attacks "demonstrate that Al-Qaeda remains determined and dangerous," said Buchanan, director for strategy for US forces in Iraq.

He said that American and Iraqi forces had "degraded" Al-Qaeda's ability to plan and coordinate attacks, raise finance and recruit fighters inside Iraq.

"But I think Al-Qaeda remains a threat and will continue to remain a threat in the future," he said at an informal round-table discussion with journalists in Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) said it was behind two attacks in Baghdad this week, one of them on a Christian cathedral last Sunday in which 46 worshippers were killed after being taken hostage.

Days later, a dozen booby-trapped vehicles exploded simultaneously in Shiite neighbourhoods across the capital, killing 64 people, according to interior ministry figures.

Asked about reports that foreign militants were involved in the assault on the cathedral, Buchanan said Al-Qaeda's flow of foreign fighters joining its ranks had slowed to a trickle.

"We have had a significant impact on degrading the network that Al-Qaeda used to bring foreign fighters from other countries. But it has not been shut off," he said.

"There are still a small number of foreign fighters that have been and continue to come across the border. Dominantly they have come through the Syrian border, but that does not mean they originate there."

Survivors said that of the five gunmen who stormed the cathedral in the Karrada district in central Baghdad, only one was Iraqi, another apparently had a Syrian accent and three others spoke in a different Arabic dialect.

Buchanan said that Al-Qaeda was slipping in only "five to 10 percent" of the number of fighters it was bringing into Iraq a few years ago, without giving any figures.

Violence in Iraq has plunged since its peak in 2006 and 2007, but kidnappings and casualties from military and insurgent action remain routine.

earlier related report
Car bombs wound 34 in Iraq's Kirkuk
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Nov 6, 2010 - Three car bombs exploded at dawn on Saturday outside the homes of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party officials in northern Iraq, wounding 34 people, police said.

"At about 6:00 am (0300 GMT) three booby-trapped cars exploded simultaneously outside the homes of three officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in north Kirkuk, wounding 34 people," said Brigadier General Adel Zeinalabedine.

The senior police commander had earlier said that 25 people were wounded in the attacks on the PUK -- a Kurdish former rebel movement which is led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, lies at the heart of an oil-rich province which is at the centre of a dispute between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.

In other violence on Saturday, twin mortar attacks targeting Baghdad's Abu Nawas neighbourhood and the fortified Green Zone, which houses many embassies and government institutions in the capital, wounded two people.

Both casualties were in Abu Nawas, sources close to the interior ministry said.

Bomb attacks in Baghdad and in the town of Tarmiyah, a former Al-Qaeda stronghold north of the capital, also wounded four policemen, security sources said.

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UN rights chief criticises Iraq over religious violence
Geneva (AFP) Nov 4, 2010
The UN's rights chief criticised the Iraqi government on Thursday for failing to protect religious communities, following a recent wave of violence targeting Christian and Shiite populations. "I believe much more could be done to protect groups which are clearly targets and who are particularly vulnerable," said Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Forty-si ... read more

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