Baghdad: Improved security in Baghdad and a lull in assassinations in the last three weeks may merely signal that armed groups are preparing a major attack in the Iraqi capital, a senior official said.
Violence has dropped sharply overall since the height of Iraq`s sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, but both Shi`ite and Sunni Muslim groups remain responsible for killings, bombings and attacks that usually happen almost daily.
May was the most violent month in Baghdad this year with 72 attempted assassinations -- of which 28 were fatal -- mostly targeting police, Army and officials. In the last three weeks, there were just five such assassinations in the capital.
"The rate of assassinations dropped to its lowest and the rate of attacks using improvised explosive devices dropped a lot and car bombs almost disappeared," Major General Hassan al-Baidhani, chief of staff for the Baghdad operations command, told Reuters in an interview this week.
"Such indications reflect the enemy plans to carry out a major operation, a large scale operation," Baidhani said.
Iraqi forces are taking over full responsibility for security as remaining US troops prepare to withdraw from the country at the end of 2011, more than eight years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
Baidhani said Iraqi security forces have carried out operations targeting Baghdad murder squads, arresting mostly members tied to al Qaeda-affiliated organisations. But surviving members and their rivals remain a threat.
"These organisations are positioning themselves to take to the street to carry out the assassinations," he said.
Iraqi officials acknowledge local armed forces face some gaps in their capabilities as they tackle an al Qaeda-linked Sunni Islamist insurgency and Shi`ite militias which Washington says are backed by neighbouring Iran.
Iraqi has many illegal armed groups, from the al Qaeda-linked Sunni Islamic State of Iraq or ISI, others tied to Saddam`s outlawed Baath party and dozens of splinter organisations formed around the Shi`ite Mehdi Army militia.
Until this month`s drop in killings, a spree of attacks targeting senior police and army officers in Baghdad was carried out by Shi`ite militias concerned about a resurgence of the Baath party when US troops leave, security officials said.