On Wednesday, a U.N. human rights report said 6,599 died in attacks on civilians in July and August 2006 in Iraq, AFP reported. -- At a briefing on Wednesday, U.S. Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson denied that the Iraqi police he is in charge of training belonged to death squads participating in the slaughter, Reuters reported. -- Most Sunni Arabs, however, are convinced of the contrary. -- ABC News reported Wendesday that a "confidential Pentagon assessment" has concluded that the "Iraqi insurgency" is supported by 75% of Sunnis, up from 14% in 2003 (presumably this figure refers to Sunni Arabs, excluding Kurds, who are also Sunnis). -- Despite U.S. denials, AFP reported Wednesday that there are many signs of growing frustration in the Bush administration with the ineffectiveness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government. -- Italy's defense minister announced, meanwhile, that Italy would complete its military withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, People's Daily Online reported. ...
NEARLY 6,600 CIVILIANS KILLED IN IRAQ IN TWO MONTHS: U.N.
September 20, 2006
BAGHDAD -- At least 6,599 civilians were killed across war-torn Iraq in the months of July and August, the United Nations said.
In July at least 3,590 people were killed and in August 3,009 died in bloody attacks on civilians, according to the UN human rights report on Wednesday.
"The month of July witnessed an increase in the number of security related incidents resulting in an unprecedented number of civilians killed throughout the country," the report said.
"Although the number of killings decreased at the beginning of August, further increases were evident towards the end of the month in Baghdad and other governorates."
The country is in the grip of a bitter conflict between the newly empowered Shiite majority and the ousted Sunni Arab elite that has left thousands dead since February.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday warned that Iraq was on the brink of all-out civil war.
U.S. SAYS IRAQI POLICE NOT BEHIND DEATH SQUADS
September 20, 2006
BAGHDAD -- The United States military said on Wednesday it had found no evidence that the Iraqi government and its police were behind Shi'ite sectarian death squads murdering Sunnis in Baghdad.
"Initially there were a lot of allegations that death squads were not only coming out of Ministry of Interior forces but also organized by the Ministry of Interior," said Major General Joseph Peterson, in charge of training Iraqi police.
"We have not identified any Ministry of Interior personnel as a part of the death squad members and leaders that we have picked up, this seems to counter the initial allegations discrediting them," he told a briefing in Baghdad.
Sunni leaders say they believe the police include members of Shi'ite militia whom they blame for an increase in sectarian violence that has erupted since a Shi'ite mosque was destroyed in February. The United States now says that violence is the greatest security threat in the country.
Peterson said most "death squad" members were part of organizations that were independent of Iraq's security ministries such as young Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.
"The majority of the individuals we have captured belong to an organization, and Jaish al-Mehdi is certainly one of them," he said, referring to the militia by its Arabic name.
He said another Shi'ite militia, the Badr organization associated with the large Shi'ite party the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, did not appear to be involved in death squad killings.
Peterson said insurgents have killed 3,500 Iraqi policemen and seriously wounded more than 7,000 others since September 2004.
INSURGENCY GAINS ALARMING SUPPORT AMONG IRAQ'S SUNNI MUSLIMS
By Jonathan Karl
** Pentagon Survey Reveals Significant Growth in Support Since Iraq War Began **
September 20, 2006
A confidential Pentagon assessment finds that an overwhelming majority of Iraq's Sunni Muslims support the insurgency that has been fighting against U.S. troops and the Iraqi government, ABC News has learned.
Officials won't say how the assessment was made but found that support for the insurgency has never been higher, with approximately 75 percent of the country's Sunni Muslims in agreement.
When the Pentagon started surveying Iraqi public opinion in 2003, Sunni support for the insurgents stood at approximately 14 percent.
The news comes as September is on track to become one of the deadliest months this year for U.S. troops in Iraq. Forty-nine Americans have been killed this month, with four deaths today.
The Iraqi toll is also climbing. At one Baghdad morgue, taxis and other cars line up to take away the bodies -- the U.S. and Iraqi forces' big push to secure the capital seems to be failing to curb the violence.
"Where is the government?" one man asked. "Where is the promise of security? Where is the prime minister?"
U.S. officials are asking the same questions as they privately express frustration with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Officials say Maliki's government is not doing enough to win support of Iraq's Sunnis.
Former general Jack Keane said the Iraqi government has been "absolutely unable or unwilling to do anything about the Shia militia groups who are causing so much of the violence in Baghdad."
White House press secretary Tony Snow said reports that the president has lost faith in Maliki are "absolutely false." He said the prime minister has been in office just four months, and there has been "significant progress."
But many of the senior military officials ABC News has spoken to simply do not agree with that assessment.
BUSH BACKS MALIKI, DESPITE WASHINGTON WHISPERS
By Stephen Collinson
September 20, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Despite signs of wearing patience with Iraqi leaders and a call for "tough choices" in Baghdad, President George W. Bush said he was still satisfied with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Bush's comments coincided with whispers of concern over the Iraqi government in the U.S. media, raging sectarian violence, and mounting political pressure for the White House over dimming prospects for a U.S. troop drawdown.
"I'm impressed by (prime minister) Maliki. I've talked to him, I've seen the decision-making process that he's put in place," Bush told CNN in an interview.
Earlier, the White House dismissed reports Bush was losing faith with Maliki, which emerged a day after the president publicly reminded Iraqi leaders that they must fulfill their side of a bargain to retain U.S. support.
"No, no, and no . . . that's absolutely false," said White House spokesman Tony Snow, adding that top U.S. brass in Baghdad was satisfied Maliki was making progress in cracking down on terrorism and fostering national reconciliation.
"It's also worth, again, reminding people who are trying to leap to conclusions, that the man has been in power for barely more than 100 days," Snow said.
A front-page New York Times report Wednesday said senior U.S. and Iraqi officials were beginning to doubt whether Maliki had the strength to hold Iraq together and to ward off civil war.
"The thing you hear most, is he never makes any decisions," a former senior official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity, referring to Maliki.
"That drives Bush crazy. He doesn't take well to anyone who talks about getting something accomplished and then refuses to take the next step."
The report followed other signs the Bush administration, at the very least, wanted to remind Iraqi leaders that U.S. troops will not remain indefinitely.
With America still paying in blood and treasure in Iraq, some in the U.S. foreign policy community question whether talk of such failings may also signal a subtle bid to sketch a rationale for an eventual exit for U.S. troops.
Bush said Tuesday alongside Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that Iraqis should know America was with them "so long as the government continues to make the tough choices necessary for peace to prevail."
He struck the same theme earlier at the United Nations General Assembly.
"We will not yield the future of your country to terrorists and extremists. In return, your leaders must rise to the challenges your country is facing, and make difficult choices to bring security and prosperity," Bush said.
Asked whether Bush was adopting "conditional love" for Iraq, a senior White House aide Tuesday denied his remarks represented a veiled warning.
"I don't think there was anything threatening about it. It was constructive," said Meghan O'Sullivan, deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It reflects the reality that the Iraqis have a lot of difficult decisions to do, these are hard to decisions to make, and that we need to both encourage and urge them to take on these decisions."
Administration warnings were echoed on Tuesday by a bi-partisan Iraq Study Group, tasked by Bush with framing new policy options in the country.
"Time is short, the level of violence is great. The margins for error are narrow," said co-chair Lee Hamilton.
"The government of Iraq needs to show its own citizens soon and the citizens of the United States that it is deserving a continued support."
Iraqi's deputy prime minister Barham Saleh, in a speech in Washington last week after meeting top U.S. officials, appeared to nod to U.S. impatience.
"I must recognize that ultimately it is up to the Iraqis to resolve their country's problems," he said.
"Outsiders cannot deliver for us. The Iraqi leadership must assume responsibility and deal with those challenges and turn the tide."
With fears of civil war mounting, U.S. analysts say Maliki's government must crack down on Shiite death squads, ensure Sunnis a viable role in government, and improve rudimentary essential services.
ITALY TO COMPLETE MILITARY WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ BEFORE END OF THIS YEAR
People's Daily Online
September 20, 2006
Visiting Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said on Wednesday that the mandate of the Italian troops deployed in southern Iraq would expire by Christmas this year, and their peacekeeping mission would be transferred to the Iraqi authorities.
Parisi told local media that 1,600 Italian troops would be pulled out of southern Iraq in batches, in line with the timetable, and the military withdrawal was to be completed by the end of this year.
Earlier, the Italian defense minister held talks with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser and his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Jaber after arriving here early on Wednesday.