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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Attacks on American troops in Iraq have declined in the last two weeks and insurgents are increasingly targeting Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition in an effort to intimidate them, the top U.S. civilian and military leaders here said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, another international humanitarian organization announced it was curtailing its operations in Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation.
After sunset Tuesday, large explosions were heard in central Baghdad, followed by sirens and sporadic gunfire from the west bank of the Tigris River. The cause was not immediately known.
Insurgents this month have fired mortars on the U.S. headquarters compound in central Baghdad, known as the "green zone." But there has been no firing in that area since the U.S. military launched "Operation Iron Hammer" to strike at guerrilla hideouts in the city.
Chief administrator L. Paul Bremer said the insurgents' recent attacks on the coalition itself were not having the desired effect, so they were turning to Iraqis who help occupation forces.
"The security situation has changed," Bremer said at a press conference with Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of the U.S. Central Command.
"They have failed to intimidate the coalition," he said. "They have now begun a pattern of trying to intimidate innocent Iraqis. They will not succeed ... If Saddam taught the Iraqis nothing else it was how to endure the depredations of thugs."
Abizaid said that the number of daily attacks on coalition forces were down by about half over the last two weeks. He gave no figures but U.S. officials have said U.S. forces were being attacked on average of 30-35 times a day.
"In the past two weeks, these attacks have gone down, attacks against coalition forces, but unfortunately we find that attacks against Iraqis have increased," Abizaid said. He said the attacks had increased not only in number but in severity.
Abizaid said there were some foreigners fighting with the insurgents but their numbers were small. He said the primary threat facing U.S. and coalition forces came from supporters of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
"Foreign fighters are coming in, and it is not correct to say that there are floods of foreign fighters coming in or thousands. The number is small," he said.
The "main problem" facing the coalition, he added, is "agents of the former regime."
Bremer was referring to a series of attacks including two car bombs last weekend at police stations in Baqouba and Khan Bani Saad, the assassination Saturday of a police colonel in Mosul and the killing Sunday of a police chief in Latifiyah near Baghdad.
The shift toward attacking Iraqis follows a decision by the U.S. command to adopt an aggressive strategy of going after insurgents before they can strike. On Tuesday, the 4th Infantry Division said its soldiers arrested 18 Iraqis during nearly 200 raids over the past 24 hours in its sector north of Baghdad.
Troops also seized Kalashnikov rifles, grenades, blasting caps and other munitions during the raids.
Residents of Husaybah, located about six miles from Syrian border, said U.S. troops sealed off the town four days ago and have been searching houses for weapons and insurgents and detaining dozens of people. U.S. officials have long complained about movement of fighters and weapons from Syria into this country.
In Canberra, Australia, the aid agency Care Australia said it had pulled its six international staffers out of Iraq and told its 70 Iraqi employees to stay at home following a weekend rocket attack on its Baghdad office.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio said that Care Australia had also received a specific threat from a terror group that called itself the Iraqi Resistance.
"We are going to kill you and attack your places without any further notice," the warning reportedly said. "We are issuing this communique after we attacked the Care office and we are letting you know that the deadline for all such places, hotels, houses, oil companies, will be the third and the last day of Eid (al-Fitr). Otherwise these buildings will be totally destroyed."
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week. In Iraq, the end of Ramadan has varied with some groups marking it Monday, others Tuesday and still others probably Wednesday.
The international Red Cross, the United Nations and other humanitarian groups have withdrawn international staff and sharply curtailed operations due to the security situation.
Meanwhile, a grenade exploded near the entrance to a hotel used by U.S. civilian contractors in the northern oil center Kirkuk, injuring two guards, hotel staff said Tuesday.
The blast late Monday also shattered windows and damaged the entrance to the Kirkuk Palace Hotel, employees said by telephone. The hotel is used by U.S. civilian contractors, journalists and others and is located about yards from a police station.
Attacks have been fewer in the north than in the volatile "Sunni Triangle" to the south. Commerce flourishes, and Iraqis feel safe enough to venture out at night to a far greater extent than their countrymen in Baghdad and other cities.
Mosul was the site of the killings Sunday of two U.S. soldiers, shot as they drove through downtown. There were early reports the soldiers' throats were slashed, but Army Maj. Joe Yoswa, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that there was no evidence of that.
Yoswa also said there was no indication the men were beaten with rocks or that their bodies were mutilated. The official said Iraqis robbed the car they were driving and stole personal effects from the soldiers' bodies.
Witnesses said that an Iraqi mob, most of them teenagers, dragged the two bloodied soldiers from the car, threw them to the ground and pummeled their bodies with concrete blocks -- scenes reminiscent of the savagery in Somalia against American troops a decade ago.
On Monday, Iraq's Governing Council warned Arabic language media to avoid reports which incite violence and ordered the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television station to stop reporting from Baghdad until it agrees not to "encourage terrorism."
Near the northern city of Kirkuk, an oil pipeline was on fire Monday. Ghazi al-Talabani, chief regional security coordinator for the Northern Oil Co., said the fire was "another of the acts of sabotage to which our oil pipeline has been subject."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)