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Iraq Transition

U.S. General: Violence dips in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- There has been a dip in violence across Iraq's war-torn capital in recent days, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.

He attributed the breather to the end of the holy month of Ramadan, an always-volatile period for extremists.

But the spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, pointed out that it was too soon to call the lull a trend.

The downturn, coupled with recent action taken by Iraqi government forces in provincial towns to quell violence, illustrates what the United States wants to achieve regularly. (Watch British troops adopt new tactics -- 4:57 Video)

"Progress and violence do co-exist here in Iraq," Caldwell said. "The security situation in parts of the country are complex, but the Iraqi government is constantly persevering to find solutions in the face of difficult challenges."

Security is the priority of the U.S. military, which hasn't been able to halt the grinding insurgent and Sunni-Shiite violence there. (Watch U.S. efforts to secure Baghdad from sectarian violence -- 3:47 Video )

There has been "a decrease in the levels of violence" coinciding with the recent end of Ramadan, Caldwell told reporters without citing statistics.

"This has only been in the past few days, and we'll have to wait to see if this decrease proves to be a trend," he said.

The military is studying whether such a decrease could also be attributed to tough security measures implemented across the capital since Monday, when a U.S. soldier was reported missing. If so, the military would look at making such extraordinary measures permanent.

Caldwell spoke with pride about the performance of Iraqi security forces and government officials in quelling fighting between militias and government forces in several places -- including Amara, in Maysan province, and in Diwaniya, in Qadisiya province, both in the south -- and Sunni-Shiite sectarian fighting in Balad, in Salaheddin province, in the north.

"In each case Iraqi forces acting on their own played a critical role in quelling the violence within days," and that halted the violence "from spiraling out of control," he said. (Watch who U.S. troops are fighting -- 3:01 Video)

"Iraqis are taking charge of their country, and they are doing it valiantly," Caldwell said. "Violence will flare up again in areas under Iraqi control. The question is can they take care of the problems themselves. In all these instances they did. They responded and returned calm."

At least 25 police officers killed

Fighting and tension has filled the country in the past month. The five latest U.S. troop deaths, in Anbar province, raised the American death toll this month to 96 -- the fourth-highest monthly total since the war began.

While violence may be decreasing, it did not stop. At least 25 Iraqi police officers and an unknown number of insurgents were killed in Diyala province, 35 miles north of Baghdad, the Diyala Joint Coordination Center and Baghdad Emergency Police said.

The casualties occurred during clashes between Iraqi police and gunmen in three locations in and around Baquba.

Also, 10 bullet-riddled bodies were found in Baghdad -- a common, daily occurrence in the capital. Police suspect these deaths have the result of Sunni-Shiite sectarian vendettas.

Caldwell said that in Anbar, a vast Sunni-dominated province, tribal forces are helping the coalition and Iraq fight insurgents ensconced in Euphrates River towns.

The tribal leaders "claim to have now killed just over 60 al Qaeda in Iraq members" since early August, said Caldwell, calling the terror group under "pressure."

Intense battles erupted Thursday morning between Iraqi police and insurgents in Baquba, Khan Bani Saad and Muradiya, in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 14 Iraqi policemen and an unknown number of insurgents, Iraqi officials said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, south of Baghdad, was closed for a few hours on Thursday after police received intelligence that attacks targeting pilgrims may have been planned.

It was reopened after security checks.

Five U.S. troops have died as a result of enemy action in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, a U.S. military statement said Thursday.

The military identified the dead troops as a sailor assigned to the 3rd Naval Construction Regiment, two Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 and two Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7.

The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war stands at 2,802. Seven American military contractors also have died. (Watch an examination of the groups the U.S. is fighting -- 3:01)

Search for missing soldier

Three suspects have been detained in Baghdad's Sadr City in connection with the disappearance and alleged capture of a U.S. soldier on Monday, the U.S. military said.

The suspects were apprehended Wednesday at a mosque, after 10 members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia were killed during fighting with Iraqi and U.S. forces, a U.S. military commander said. (Watch aftermath of two-hour firefight in Sadr City -- 2:44)

There was no word on what information the suspects may have provided or whether they are still in custody, but the U.S. military and Iraqi forces suspect the militia may be behind the soldier's disappearance, CNN's John Roberts reported from Iraq. (Full story)

The missing soldier has been identified as an Iraqi-American interpreter.

No group has claimed responsibility, a U.S. military commander said Thursday. at a news conference Thursday.

"We're using all assets in our arsenal to find this American soldier, and the government of Iraq is doing everything it can, also, at every level," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell. "Make no mistake, we will not stop looking for our service member."

The soldier was last seen in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone at 2:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. ET) Monday before apparently leaving for an unauthorized visit with family members, the military said. (Full story)

The soldier's identity has been withheld out of concern for his family's safety, and he has been officially listed as "whereabouts unknown."

Other developments

  • A 20-year-old Marine pleaded guilty to charges of assault and obstruction of justice in connection with the killing of an Iraqi civilian in April. Six other U.S. service personnel also face charges in the case. (Full story)
  • A subsidiary of military contracting giant Halliburton and four other companies billed the U.S. government $62.1 million, more than twice the amount spent on its contract projects in Iraq, according to a new report. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that direct project costs totaled $26.7 percent. (Full storyexternal link)
  • Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has criticized remarks from U.S. officials about the establishment of timelines for military and political progress in the country. "I affirm that this government represents the will of the Iraqi people and the national will and no one has the right to impose timetables on it," he said. Many U.S. politicians -- Republican and Democrat -- have said it is time for the Iraqi government to take aggressive military action against the Mehdi Army and other militias.
  • CNN's Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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