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Violence down in Iraq as fighters shift to Syria

The departure of al-Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion in Syria against President Bashar Assad has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say: Violence has dropped in this country, in some areas by as much as 50 percent in just a few months.

Iraqi officials declined to provide precise figures for the drop-off or to estimate how many al-Qaida-affiliated fighters have left the country for Syria. But the impact of the departure, they said, has been especially apparent in Ninevah province, which borders Syria and has long been the scene of some of al-Qaida in Iraq's most violent bombings and assassinations.

The province's capital, Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, was once home to as many as 800 al-Qaida-affiliated fighters, U.S. officials estimated last summer. But one provincial security officer said that attacks in Mosul by al-Qaida in Iraq have become infrequent this year and that such attacks generally are small or are detected before they can be carried out.

"Violence is down in Mosul, maybe one or two operations per day, sometimes none," the officer said Monday.

Last Thursday, James R. Clapper Jr., the Obama administration's director of national intelligence, told Congress that the United States thought al-Qaida-affiliated fighters were responsible for the most spectacular rebel attacks on Syrian military forces in recent months, including suicide bombings in Damascus in December and January and two attacks earlier this month in Aleppo. The four attacks, which targeted Syrian military or intelligence facilities, killed at least 70 people.

In Syria, meanwhile, government tanks and troops massed Monday outside the resistance stronghold of Homs for a possible ground assault that one activist warned could unleash a new round of fierce and bloody urban combat even as the Red Cross tried to broker a cease-fire to allow for the entry of emergency aid.