The new plan calls for increasing the number of US troops in Baghdad, bringing them in from other parts of the country rather than adding to the overall number of about 127,000 in Iraq.
US and Iraqi forces conducted 19 operations last week targeting death squads, US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters. All but two were in Baghdad, he said.
“Clearly Baghdad is the centre that everybody is fighting for,”
Major General Caldwell said. “We will do whatever it takes to bring security to Baghdad.”
Security in the Iraqi capital is expected to figure prominently during talks in Washington on Tuesday between US President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Many of the death squads are believed to be associated with either Sunni or Shi’ite armed groups, targeting members of the rival sect as part of a struggle for power between the country’s two major religious communities.
The tit-for-tat killings accelerated after the February 22 bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra and have steadily increased despite establishment of Mr Maliki’s national unity government last May.
On Monday the city morgue in Kut, a mostly Shi’ite city southwest of Baghdad, reported receiving 19 bodies — blindfolded and some showing signs of torture. They were believed victims of sectarian death squads, city officials said.
US officials have avoided identifying death squads and militias by sect, preferring instead to refer to them as criminals and thugs.
“We have not seen the death squads associated with any one particular sect,” Major General Caldwell said. “But they’re not part of a larger organisation that we can see.”
He said “very extremist elements” from both sectarian communities were “using murder and assassination as their means by which to further their personal goals”.
The rise in sectarian violence has shifted attention away from the western Anbar province, where the Sunni-led insurgency is most active, to Baghdad, a city of 6 million people with large communities of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.
A series of bomb and gun attacks across Iraq killed at least 26 people on Monday and wounded dozens more, security officials said.
In the northern city of Mosul a bomber drove an explosives-packed car into an Iraqi unit driving behind a US military patrol, killing five Iraqi troops and injuring four more.
Also in Mosul, four people were killed in an attack on their car, and a policeman was shot dead by gunmen.
Earlier, a suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in the southern city of Samarra, killing himself and a male bystander.
In the Baghdad area, 12 people were killed and 32 wounded in separate attacks, police said.
The latest attacks came after a bloody day in which similar bombings targeting civilians in Baghdad and the oil city of Kirkuk killed at least 64 people, according to official sources.