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General: Baghdad crackdown reveals hostages

Despite tight security, car bomb kills 2 in Iraqi capital

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Iraqi soldiers stop cars Wednesday at a Baghdad checkpoint. A curfew and weapons ban also are in place.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi troops Wednesday uncovered a kidnapping ring, seized weapons -- including three rockets -- and defused two roadside bombs after beginning a security clampdown on the often lawless streets of Baghdad.

In the first day of the new government's push to restore order in the capital, Iraqi troops also enforced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and issued a weapons ban for civilians.

Four insurgents were detained at one checkpoint after three people emerged from a car "screaming for help," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

"We found eight people that had been kidnapped now for four days that we were able to return back under control of the Iraqi government," Caldwell said. "They worked for an electrical company down south of Baghdad."

Iraq's ministries of Defense and Interior would not give specific numbers on how many troops were stationed across the city Wednesday, but it appeared to be fewer than the 70,000 that the Interior Ministry initially said it would deploy. (Watch the violence that inspired the Baghdad crackdown -- 1:56)

Hours after the operation began, President Bush said at a news conference in Washington that 26,000 Iraqi troops and 23,000 Iraqi police will be backed by about 7,200 U.S.-led coalition troops.

"This operation is a joint effort to restore security and rule of law to high-risk areas in the capital city," Bush said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised to deploy Iraqi forces to quell a spike in violence and sectarian strife in recent months.

This is the largest operation carried out in Baghdad since Iraq gained its sovereignty in June 2004, said Maj. Gen. Mahdi al-Gharrawi, commander of the forces deployed by the Interior Ministry.

Authorities will beef up the operation in coming days while making efforts not to disrupt the lives of civilians, said Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.

Asked Wednesday if the Iraqi military and police soon would be able to snuff out the insurgency on their own, Caldwell replied, "I'm not sure they're going to be able to crush anything anytime soon, but they're getting stronger and better each and every day."

There are still 60,000 security troops waiting to be trained and equipped, he said, and "we still have a ways to go with them."

As for security in Baghdad, Caldwell said the situation was not such that U.S. soldiers would be able to move freely in the city without threat of attack.

"I'm not sure it's going to be anytime soon to have that kind of freedom of movement when you've got the al Qaeda in Iraq element, which will indiscriminately kill civilians like they do," Caldwell said. (Watch Caldwell discuss security and al Qaeda in Iraq's new leader -- 5:41)

The troops and police involved in Wednesday's crackdown are wearing new uniforms to distinguish them from insurgents, who often don police or military outfits to carry out attacks.

Some Iraqi officials blame the violence on militia members in the country's security forces who are still loyal to their various factions.

Bush said the plan to demobilize militias and incorporate them into Iraq's police and military forces will continue, but the militia members will be "monitored closely by the government."

Al-Maliki said Wednesday he is open to talking with insurgents who initially opposed the political process, but he refuses to talk to any group responsible for killing Iraqis, according to an official in his office.

Despite Wednesday's checkpoints and tight security, a remote-controlled car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed two people and wounded 10 others in northern Baghdad's Qahira neighborhood, police said.

Separately, a roadside bombing targeted but missed a police patrol in the Waziriya area, also in northern Baghdad. No one was hurt.

Protests in Baghdad, Basra

Bush's visit to Iraq on Tuesday prompted followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to stage a large demonstration Wednesday in Baghdad.

They chanted slogans such as "No, to the occupation," "Iraq is only for Iraqis" and "No, no for America."

They also called for a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces and expressed outrage that the Iraqi government wasn't notified in advance of Bush's visit. U.S. officials had said the trip was conducted in secret because of precarious security in Iraq.

Another protest Wednesday occurred in the southern city of Basra, this one targeting Iran.

Hundreds of Shiite demonstrators attacked the Iranian Consulate, throwing stones and setting fire to a building, according to police and an official from al-Sadr's office.

The protesters -- followers of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi -- were incensed about remarks about the cleric made on an Iranian TV program.

Both Basra and Iran are largely Shiite.

Other developments

  • Italy's top diplomat Wednesday said that even though his country plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, it will "continue to contribute" to the mission but with "different means." "We will withdraw our troops but not our support for the new democratically elected Iraqi government," said Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema in a column in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. Italy has had fewer than 3,000 troops in Iraq, with a death toll of 31 troops.
  • Gunmen opened fire Wednesday on a car carrying a member of the Muqdadiya town council, killing him and one of his guards, according to a Baquba police official. A bystander also was wounded. Muqdadiya is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, north of Baghdad.
  • Fighting between Iraqi security forces and insurgents in a Diyala province town left five forces dead and three others wounded, an official said. The clashes took place Tuesday night in Dahlaghiya, nearly 20 miles (32 miles) east of Baquba. Four insurgents were detained, the official said.
  • Gunmen sprayed bullets Wednesday at electronic stores in Baquba, killing four civilians, a police official said.
  • The senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he favors a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq beginning by the end of 2006 and finishing by the end of 2007. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jennifer Z. Deaton, Mohammed Tawfeeq and John Vause contributed to this report.

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