Violence in Baghdad Cut in Half

Violence in Baghdad has dropped by nearly half since July, when U.S.-led forces launched an operation to pacify the capital, a U.S. general said on Monday, while acknowledging a spike in bombings in the past 48 hours.

U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell also said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would assume operational control of Iraq's armed forces by next month in what he called a significant step toward Iraq taking responsibility for its security.

Caldwell said troops had cleared 33,000 buildings, seized more than 700 weapons and detained 70 suspects during the three-week-old operation to quell violence in Baghdad.

The daily murder rate had dropped 46 percent from July to August and car bombings were at their lowest rate for eight months, he said, while noting a spate of car bombings and shootings at the weekend which killed dozens.

"Insurgents and terrorists are hitting back in an attempt to offset the success of the Iraqi government and its security forces and divert media attention from Operation Together Forward,">/strong> he said.

One sign of the improved security situation was "the unusual number of weddings in the streets of Baghdad", children riding bicycles, and the reopening of shops, he added.

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