BAGHDAD - Attacks by militants in Iraq fell in November to their lowest monthly level since the war began in 2003 despite high-profile bombings aimed at shaking public confidence, a U.S. commander said yesterday.
Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander here, blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq for bombings that have killed nearly 50 people in Baghdad and elsewhere since Monday. Despite the blasts, attacks nationwide had dropped 80 percent since March, he said.
At least 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in bombings Monday against Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and Mosul. Fifteen others died in blasts Tuesday in Mosul and another northern city, Tal Afar, and in the southern city of Iskandariyah.
One civilian was killed and five wounded yesterday by a magnetic bomb attached to a minibus carrying Education Ministry employees to work in eastern Baghdad, police said.
"Their intent is to erode the confidence of civilians and Iraqi security forces, to create a picture that things are not going in the right direction," Austin told reporters.
Nevertheless, he said, November "saw fewer attacks than any month since 2003" when the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. He did not give figures.
U.S. combat deaths in November fell to eight, one of the war's lowest monthly totals. The drop suggests extremists are focusing on Iraqi forces as the U.S. scales back its role on the battlefield.
Austin attributed the fall in violence to an increase in Iraqi security forces on the streets and the arrests of a number of key figures from al-Qaeda and Shiite extremist "special groups."
In the latest arrest, U.S. soldiers captured two suspected members of the militant Shiite group Kataib Hezbollah and killed another during raids early yesterday in Baghdad's Karradah district, the United States announced.
The United States believes Kataib Hezbollah is trained, financed and armed by Iran, an allegation Iran has denied.
"Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of individuals who played key roles in al-Qaeda," Austin said. "We have also degraded the networks of the [Shiite] special-groups criminals."