WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2009 – Recent high-profile attacks against civilians near Mosul, Iraq, reflect al-Qaida in Iraq’s continued desire to incite sectarian strife, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today.

Army Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of Multinational Division North, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference the attacks don’t indicate a statistical spike in violence.

In fact, he said, the average weekly numbers of attacks committed in and around the northern city of Mosul actually have trended down over the past six months. About 40 to 42 weekly attacks occurred in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in the six months prior to the June 30 turnover of urban-area security duties to Iraqi forces, Caslen said. Since then, he said, the average number of weekly attacks in Mosul declined to 29.

“So overall, believe it or not, the number of attacks in Mosul has decreased,” Caslen said. “We see that as very encouraging.”

The 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, provides the Multinational Division North’s headquarters at Contingency Operating Base Speicher outside Tikrit. The division’s area of operations spans seven northern Iraqi provinces and includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra.

Yesterday, more than 30 people died and nearly 200 were wounded when two truck bombs detonated east of Mosul. An Aug. 7 bombing north of Mosul killed more than 40 people and destroyed a mosque. Other recent attacks in Baghdad have targeted civilians and Iraqi security forces.

Al-Qaida elements retreated north from Baghdad during the 2007 “surge” campaign that ended the insurgents’ bid to start a civil war that would bring down the Iraqi government. Al-Qaida has centered its Iraq operations in the Mosul area since then, Caslen said, conducting high-profile attacks against civilians in an effort to spark sectarian violence.

But it’s not working, Caslen said. “We have not found the sectarian reactions” to the bombings that al-Qaida hopes to bring about, he told reporters. The people of Mosul, he said, do not share the insurgents’ ideology.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government and its security forces are going after the perpetrators of the bombings, Caslen said, while U.S. forces are providing advice and other types of support to the Iraqi political and military leadership. Al-Qaida networks in Iraq have been “degenerated,” he added.

And if Iraqi security forces keep up the pressure on the insurgents, he said, then “they’ll be able to maintain the lid on them, and you’re not going to get this tremendous resurgence of sectarian counter-activity that you saw back in 2006 and 2007.”

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