BASRA, Iraq, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. military commanders note positive developments in the security situation in southern Iraq but point to lingering activity of Sunni and al-Qaida groups.
Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, the commander of Multinational Division South, and Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz, the commander of the 14th Iraqi Division, briefed reporters from near the port city of Basra.
Around 14,000 U.S. forces maintain a presence in the nine provinces making up the southern sector of the country.
A bilateral security pact between Washington and Baghdad calls for Iraqi forces to stand up as U.S. forces prepare for a withdrawal by 2011. Aziz hailed the progress of his Iraqi counterparts, noting many of the Iraqi forces are able to conduct routine security operations independently.
"Many of our checkpoints are now manned jointly by members of both Iraqi forces," Aziz said. "The training both sides have received and the trust built between them has been very positive."
Nash, meanwhile, said there was a rise in insurgent activity in the northwest districts in areas around Karbala and Babil provinces.
"We're looking into an (al-Qaida in Iraq) connection and Sunni extremist groups that possibly could be causing strife up there, tried to get sectarian violence started again," he said.
Al-Qaida-affiliated groups claimed responsibility for a series of high-profile attacks on Baghdad, including a weekend attack that killed more than 100 people.