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Security blanket over Baghdad

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Italy further reduces troops

BAGHDAD: Iraqi troops were out in force and cars were backed up at checkpoints on Wednesday in Baghdad as a deadly car bomb killed four persons and clashes broke out in two Sunni Arab strongholds shortly after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a major security crackdown aimed at ending the violence that has devastated the capital.

Tens of thousands of police and soldiers deployed throughout the capital of six million people, searching cars and securing roads into and out of Baghdad.

Four die in car bomb blast

Despite the stepped up security measures, a parked car bomb struck the northern district of Qahira on Wednesday morning, killing at least four civilians and wounding six, police Lt. Ali Mitaab said.

Defence Minister Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim said 80 per cent of the operations staged by ``terrorists and organised crime'' target civilians. He added that 15 per cent were against Iraqi security forces and 5 per cent were against coalition forces.

AFP reports from Rome: Italy began on Wednesday a further reduction of its troop strength in Iraq, which will be down to 1,600 men by the end of June, the military high command said. Spokesman Colonel Roberto Tomsi said the last few hundred troops of the Sassari Brigade were on their way back to Italy, leaving only the Garibaldi Brigade in Iraq.

The whole of the Italian contingent, once the fourth largest, will be pulled out by the end of the year in line with a pledge by Prime Minister Romano Prodi.


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