Al-Maliki says violence down in Iraq

( AP ) - The number of bombings and suicide attacks has dropped dramatically in the Iraqi capital, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday. Meanwhile, a roadside bomb missed a U.S. convoy in eastern Baghdad, killing a 12-year-old girl and wounding four other Iraqis, police said.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, told reporters that "terrorist acts" including car bombings and suicide attacks have dropped by 77 percent from last year's high, a sign that Sunni-Shiite violence "is closed now."

"When the sectarian strife is over, then I will not fear the gangs who are running between the provinces," al-Maliki said, an apparent reference to al-Qaida and other Sunni religious extremists that have been driven from the capital.

"The majority of these terrorists are fleeing to nearby countries, and I warned our brothers in the Islamic and Arab countries to be aware in order that they not harm these countries," he said.

Al-Maliki said he was considering an amnesty for those "who were lured or committed some crimes," although he added that the move would not include those "convicted of killings or bombings."

The upbeat statements reflected those of U.S. military officials. Last week, the commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, said bombings and killings had been declining steadily since a spike last June and "it continues to come down every month."

Despite security improvements, violence is continuing, although at a lower level than last year at the height of the sectarian slaughter and before the arrival of nearly 30,000 U.S. reinforcements sent to Iraq to stem the killings.

U.S. soldiers sealed off part of the Baladiyat area after a roadside bomb exploded about 8:45 a.m. as an American convoy was passing through the mostly Shiite district, a policeman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The Iraqi victims were all civilians who happened to be in the area when the explosion occurred, he said. There were no reports of American casualties.

In western Baghdad, assailants in a speeding car hurled a hand grenade at a minibus traveling Sunday between the Bab al-Muadham bus terminal to Baiyaa, a flashpoint neighborhood where Shiite militiamen drove away many Sunnis this year.

Three minibus passengers were seriously wounded, a policeman said on condition of anonymity because he was also not authorized to release information to media.

The attack occurred one day after attackers, also traveling by car, threw a grenade at a civilian vehicle in Baiyaa, wounding two passengers.

U.S. officials have attributed much of the decline in violence to success in driving al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni extremist groups from the Iraqi capital.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military said it had achieved "significant progress" in operations against al-Qaida in four northern provinces since American and Iraqi forces launched Operation Iron Hammer last week.

A U.S. statement said during the first week of the operation, U.S. and Iraqi forces had detained more than 200 suspected extremists, captured three "high value" al-Qaida operatives and seized more than a ton of various explosives.

U.S. officers had predicted that al-Qaida and other extremists groups would try to regroup in the mostly Sunni north after they were driven from strongholds in Baghdad and Diyala province this year.

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