Bush: Iraqi security situation has improved; Operation launched in Diyala against al-Qaeda; 61 people killed in blasts and clashes; Iraqi officials say pact with America is near; IOC lifts Iraq ban
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  • US President George Bush on July 31 stated that the improved security situation in Iraq would allow the US to further reduce the number of troops in that country. This reflected the emerging consensus at the White House and the Pentagon that the war in Iraq had turned a corner. Bush’s statement came on the heels of the lowest number of deaths of American troops in a month (13) since the war began in 2003. Bush also added that the US was making progress in talks with Iraq over the terms to govern American troops after the UN mandate expires on December 311. Iraqi officials on their part on July 30 stated that they were close to reach a security agreement with the US on the presence of the foreign troops in Iraq. The Bush administration’s unofficial deadline for reaching the security pact with Iraq was July 312.

    Iraqi troops meanwhile backed by American forces launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda militants in the north-eastern province of Diyala, stated to be one of the last strongholds of the al-Qaeda in the country. As part of the operations, Iraqi troops sealed off Baquba and staged house-to-house searches for militants and weapons. Iraqi officials maintained that recent successful operations carried out by Iraqi forces have enabled the Americans to play a less high-profile role in such operations, thus ensuring lower American causalities3.

    The Diyala operation came a day after ethnic clashes and suicide attacks killed at least 61 people and injured over 238 in northern city of Kirkuk and Baghdad. Violence in Kirkuk erupted on July 28 when a suicide bomber blew herself up killing at least 17 Kurdish people who were demonstrating against the election law, passed recently in parliament but vetoed by the president. The Kurdish leaders put the blame for the veto on the rival Turkmen ethnic group and started attacking them and their political offices in the city. On the same day in Baghdad, two women bombers killed at least 32 people, all apparently Shiite pilgrims marching in a festival4.

    In other developments, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted the ban on Iraq from participating in the Beijing Games on July 29 following the Iraqi governments pledge to ensure the independence of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee (NOC). Iraq was banned in the previous week following the government’s decision to disband the NOC5.