Baghdad, Iraq Bombings and mortar attacks killed dozens Monday across Baghdad as Iraqi troops set up new checkpoints and an Iraqi general took command - indications that the much-awaited operation to restore peace to the capital is gearing up nearly a month after it was announced.
With little sign of an end to the carnage, many Iraqis have begun complaining that the security drive has been too slow in starting, allowing extremists free rein to launch spectacular attacks that have killed nearly 1,000 in the past week.
Monday's death toll supported their frustration. At least 74 people were killed or found dead across the country - all but seven of them in Baghdad.
With so much at stake, U.S. commanders have moved methodically to plan the operation and assemble the force, eager to avoid the mistakes that accompanied two failed crackdowns last year.
The U.S. military officials said Monday they consider the operation to have been under way since Bush signed the order last month to start moving 21,500 troops to Iraq. U.S. officers offered assurances that once the operation gets rolling, Iraqis will begin to see a difference.
"It's going to be much more than this city has ever seen and it's going to be a rolling surge," Col. Douglass Heckman, the senior adviser to the 9th Iraqi Army Division, said of the operation.
But Iraqi politicians - Shiite and Sunni alike - urged the government to speed up implementation of the plan, which President Bush announced Jan. 11. The operation would put thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops on the street to protect civilians against sectarian bombers and death squads.
As of Monday, at least 3,098 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In a sign that the crackdown is near, Iraqi troops manned a major new checkpoint Monday at the northern gate to Baghdad, searching cars and trucks heading to and from Sunni insurgent areas to the north. Soldiers and police said the checkpoint was set up as part of the security plan.
Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, who will direct the operation, took charge of his still-unfinished command center Monday in a former Saddam Hussein palace inside the American-controlled Green Zone.
Gambar, who was taken prisoner by U.S. troops in the 1991 Gulf War, will have two Iraqi deputies, one on each side of the Tigris River, which flows through the center of the capital. The city will be divided into nine districts, each with as many as 600 U.S. soldiers to back up Iraqi troops who will take the lead in the security drive.
About 3,000 paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in late January in Iraq and were expected to begin operations in the coming days. But the last of the U.S. reinforcements are not due until May.