Baghdad on Sunday declared a 24-hour vehicle ban on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in a bid to prevent car bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital.
On Sunday, eve of the anniversary, the daily bloodshed showed no let-up with at least 23 people killed in attacks including car bombings.
"All vehicles including motorcycles will be banned from 5 am (0100 GMT) on Monday to 5 am the next day," Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim Atta Mussawi told state television.
Mussawi is spokesman for the Baghdad security plan launched in the capital on February 14 in an effort to quell the daily bloodshed.
The daily night-time curfew between 10 pm and 5 am will also remain in force on Sunday.
Monday's vehicle ban is to thwart any car bomb attacks in Baghdad as Iraq, caught in raging sectarian and insurgent violence, marks the fourth anniversary of Saddam's ouster on April 9, 2003.
Thousands of people have been killed in car bomb attacks alone in the capital over the past year.
On Sunday the relentless violence continued, with 23 more people reported killed.
In the deadliest attack, a car bomb near a residential building in an industrial zone in Mahmudiyah south of Baghdad killed 17 people, local mayor Moyaid al-Amary said.
The attack coincided with a US military announcement that another four American soldiers had died in a roadside bomb explosion in Diyala province, where insurgents have become increasingly active in recent months.
That bombing raised to 21 the number of US troops killed this month alone and to 3,269 the death toll since the March 2003 invasion, according to a count based on Pentagon figures.
Another six Iraqis were killed in Baghdad on Sunday, five of them by a car bomb in Al-Alam, a mixed Shiite-Sunni district rife with sectarian conflict.
The unrest provided a grim backdrop for Iraq's dwindling Christian minority who donned their Sunday best for traditional Easter church services before retiring to quiet celebrations at home.
In his Easter blessing, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that "nothing positive comes from Iraq" -- home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities.
US and Iraqi military officials insist that execution-style killings have fallen since the February crackdown began.
US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said they were down 60 percent in the fortnight covered by "the last week of March and first (week of) April," compared with the similar period the month before.
For the whole of March, he said, such killings were down 26 percent compared with February.
"It is not a trend but we continue to see that it has stayed lower. We are encouraged by the positive sign," Caldwell said, without offering actual figures to substantiate his analysis.
Mussawi also insisted that fewer bodies of unidentified men were being found on Baghdad's streets.
"Such bodies do not exceed eight on a daily basis. And that is not a large number," he told a joint news conference with Caldwell.
Before the crackdown began, dozens of corpses of handcuffed and blindfolded men riddled with bullets were found daily.
South of Baghdad, fighting between militiamen and US and Iraqi troops continued on Sunday for a third day in the central Shiite city of Diwaniyah.
Doctor Hamid Gaati said that over the past three days the local hospital had recorded nine dead and 25 wounded. Medical supplies were running short and staff faced difficulties getting to work.
"So far, we have achieved great success fighting the terrorists," said Major General Oothman Faroud, commander of the 8th Iraqi army division in the city.
Iraq's Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday urged his militiamen and security forces to stop fighting in Diwaniyah, calling it a "trap" by US-led forces.
"Iraq has had enough bloodshed. The occupation forces led by the biggest evil, America, is working to sow dissent either directly or through its agents," said a statement from his office in Najaf.
Sadr, whose militia the US accuses of killing Sunni Arabs, has repeatedly called for foreign troops to leave Iraq.
On Sunday, thousands of Shiites gathered in Najaf for a massive anti-US rally on Monday's anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, police said.
"It will be an Iraqi demonstration in the name of all Iraqis. We will raise the Iraqi flag and also banners demanding that the occupation leave," a Sadr representative in his Najaf office said on condition of anonymity.
Al-Jazeera airs Iraq most wanted footage
Al-Jazeera satellite news channel broadcast a video recording Sunday of what it said was one of the most wanted members of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime still on the run.
The Qatar-based network gave no date for the purported footage of elite Republican Guards chief Saifeddin Fulayh Hassan Taha al-Rawi, who was number 14 on the most wanted list drawn up by the US military for the 2003 invasion.
Rawi, who carries a one million dollar US bounty on his head, was also jack of spades on the "deck of cards" of 55 most wanted supects distributed by the Pentagon at the outset of the invasion.
In the footage shown, Rawi accuses US forces of using neutron and phosphorus bombs during their assault on Baghdad airport ahead of the April 9 capture of the Iraqi capital.
His face is difficult to identify due to low light, but he is seen sitting in what appears to be a living room wearing a black and white kefiya, the traditional Arab headdress.
"The enemy used neutron and phosporus weapons against Baghdad airport... there were bodies burnt to their bones," he charses, adding that elite Iraqi soldiers "fought until they were martyred."
Rawi said the Iraqi military command had expected the US-led air war to last much longer before the launch of the land offensive, as a reason for the rapid collapse of Saddam's forces.
"We had not expected the enemy to launch its land offensive from the very first or second day" of the onslaught. "We expected the air raids to last at least a month," the former officer said.
"The land offensive came at the same time as the air offensive. That was a situation we did not expect," he told Al-Jazeera, which said it would later air more of the interview to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the war.