Iraq's government hopes it will soon be able to declare an end to a US-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad following a sharp drop in insurgent attacks in the capital, a military spokesman said.
Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi, Iraqi spokesman for the nine-month-old Baghdad security plan, said the decline in violence would allow the government to reopen ten roads this month which had been closed for security reasons.
"This will help reduce traffic jams and citizens will feel life returning to normal," Moussawi said in an interview with Iraqi state television that was aired around midnight on Sunday.
Asked when the Baghdad offensive, called Operation Imposing Law, would come to an end, Moussawi said: "God willing, soon."
Moussawi did not suggest that would mark an end to joint military offensives in Baghdad.
Declaring an end to Operation Imposing Law would acknowledge security has improved but would be largely symbolic, as tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops would remain in Baghdad.
The US military declined to comment on Moussawi's remarks.
Iraq launched Operation Imposing Law in mid-February in a last-ditch attempt to halt the country's slide into civil war.
US President George W. Bush sent an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq to beef up the Iraqi government's own forces, with most of the additional American troops deployed in and around Baghdad.
When the offensive began, Iraq was gripped by dozens of bombing and shooting attacks nearly every day.
Since American reinforcements were fully deployed in the middle of the year, attacks have fallen sharply.
The US military said in a statement yesterday that mortar and rocket attacks in Iraq in October had dropped to their lowest level since February 2006.
Moussawi said the Baghdad Sunni district of Adhamiya, once one of the most violent in the capital, recorded 29 insurgent attacks in September, down from a peak of 150 in April.
In the city centre, attacks in September fell to 18 from their highest monthly figure of 187, while in the Shi'ite stronghold of Sadr City, attacks dropped to four in September from a peak of 70.
Moussawi did not say which months had seen the most attacks in the latter two cases.
One factor behind the improved security has been the August decision by anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to freeze the activities of his feared Mehdi Army militia.
Iraqi officials also said the gradual handover of control of security in the country's provinces from US-led forces would continue, with security for Babel province south of Baghdad to be handed back next month.
That would make Babel the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be given back to Iraqi control.
A Pentagon report in September said current projections showed the handover of security responsibility for all 18 provinces could be done as early as July 2008.
Last week, the US military commander for Baghdad, Major-General Joseph Fil, said the reduction in violence would allow fewer US troops to protect the Iraqi capital.
Some American units will leave Baghdad under a plan endorsed by Bush in September that will see US troop levels in Iraq fall by 20,000-30,000 by mid-2008 from about 170,000 at present.
The drop in violence has surprised many Iraqis.
But while attacks have declined, movement toward political reconciliation at the national level between majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Arabs has been slow.
Parliament has yet to pass key laws which Washington believes will help heal sectarian divisions.
Maliki's Cabinet is now largely made up of Shi'ites and Kurds after the main Sunni Arab bloc quit in August, saying it had been marginalized from decision making.
Source: China Daily/Agencies