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More than 8,000 Iraqis killed in insurgent attacks

Spokesman: Reliance on car bombs a 'distinctive shift'

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgent attacks in the last six months have killed more than 8,000 Iraqi civilians, police and troops, according to Iraq's interior minister.

Meanwhile Thursday, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said the insurgency's reliance on car bombs is due to their "high payoffs."

In an interview with CNN, Iraqi Interior Minister Baqir Jabbur said "terrorists" had killed 8,175 people and wounded another 12,000 since January 2005.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there have been 307 U.S. fatalities in combat during the same period.

Jabbur said he was optimistic about the recent strides made by Iraqi security forces and predicted victory in the war against insurgents.

"We have a plan, and I think we need some months and we can get results ... We are surrounding the insurgency," he said.

Unofficial estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths during the Iraq war range from about 22,000 -- according to the Web site iraqbodycount.net -- to about 100,000 -- from an independent survey reported in The Washington Post. The Pentagon does not give numbers for civilian deaths in Iraq.

Jabbur said he believed the United States has enough troops deployed in Iraq. He said Wednesday the focus needed to remain on the training of more Iraqi troops and police.

Jabbur said the Iraqi-led counterinsurgency operation dubbed "Operation Lightning" has so far yielded 1,500 arrests of suspected insurgents around Baghdad. Of those, 500 have been released, Interior Ministry officials said.

He said Iraqi and American troops were poised to start a second phase of the operation, extending the reach of the campaign to a 60-kilometer (38-mile) radius around Baghdad.

Jabbur's office is in charge of Iraq's police force, which he said now numbers about 67,000.

The ministry hopes to recruit a total of 200,000, but financial restraints are complicating efforts to outfit them with weapons and equipment, he said.

Political progress

On Thursday, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston said he believed fighters remained a potent, adaptive force and the lethal car bombings that have plagued Baghdad and other places in recent weeks, "will continue in Iraq for a period of time."

He estimated the number of insurgents as "between 15,000 and 20,000 at large, with a lot of that being folks who don't choose to fight every day." He estimated a core group to number in the hundreds.

Their main targets are Iraqi security forces and civilians, he said.

Alston said that in its first year of sovereignty, Iraq has made political progress and strides in developing security forces. But he noted that those forces had to be built "from scratch."

"We found an insurgency that was aggressive in several cities, frankly culminating in Falluja back in November," he said, referring to the U.S.-led offensive in November that destroyed the insurgency haven in the Anbar city.

"At that time, the attack levels were in the 900s per week. There was some ability of the insurgency and the terrorists to surge for the elections because of just how much that loss was going to mean to them.

"We have seen nothing like those levels of attacks to date since that time frame. So I think that the ability of the enemy to sustain high-volume attacks is just something that we haven't seen them to be able to reconstitute."

Alston noted the insurgents' reliance on a car bombing strategy lately, what he calls a "distinctive shift." That began when the new transitional government was announced at the end of May.

"We have seen this spring a move toward car bombs because of the high payoffs," said Alston.

Alston also pointed out that the insurgents "don't score every time they employ" a car bombing or a suicide car bombing, noting efficient procedures to interdict such strikes, detaining suspected bomb makers, and poor bomb-production quality.

Other developments

  • U.S. and Iraqi forces hunting down insurgents in western Iraq detained two people at the site of a weapons cache Thursday. No fighting has been reported, the U.S. Marine Corps said. The Marines have been focusing on Hit, along the Euphrates River, and said that local people have helped "in locating roadside bombs and weapons caches."
  • The military said that local citizens in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, helped coalition forces find "more than 4,000 pounds of high explosives near Kirkuk Air Base" Wednesday and Thursday, the military said.
  • CNN correspondent Jennifer Eccleston contributed to this report.

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