ATTACKS IN IRAQ AT RECORD HIGH, PENTAGON SAYS
By David S. Cloud and Michael R. Gordon
New York Times
December 19, 2006
[PHOTO CAPTION: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates being sworn in Monday.]
[GRAPHIC TITLE: Another Bleak Assessment: Some indicators from a report released yesterday by the Defense Department on the situation in Iraq. Shows 1) average daily casualties and 2) average weekly attacks during eight periods, defined as: a) Occupation: April 1 to June 28, 2004; b) Iraqi Control [sic], June 29 to Nov. 26, 2004; c) Assembly Election, Nov. 27, 2004 to Feb. 11, 2005; d) Pre-Constitution, Feb. 12 to Aug. 28, 2005; e) Referendum and Election, Aug. 29, 2005 to Feb. 10, 2006; f) Transitional Government, Feb. 11 to May 19, 2006; g) Elected Government, May 20 to Aug. 11, 2006; h) Elected Government, Aug. 12 to Nov. 10, 2006. Also shows monthly figures for “sectarian incidents” and “sectarian executions” for 2006.]
WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level, and called violence by Shiite militants the most significant threat in Baghdad.
The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005, with the biggest surge in attacks against American-led forces. That was an increase of 22 percent from the level for early May to early August, the report said. [Full Text: The Report (.pdf)]
While most attacks were directed at American forces, most deaths and injuries were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians.
The report is the most comprehensive public assessment of the American-led operation to secure Baghdad, which began in early August. About 17,000 American combat troops are currently involved in the beefed-up security operation.
According to the Pentagon assessment, the operation initially had some success in reducing killings as militants concentrated on eluding capture and hiding their weapons. But sectarian death squads soon adapted, resuming their killings in regions of the capital that were not initially targets of the overstretched American and Iraqi troops.
Shiite militias, the Pentagon report said, also received help from allies among the Iraqi police. “Shia death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations,” the report said.
“This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions.”
The findings were issued on the day Robert M. Gates was sworn in as defense secretary, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld.
At an afternoon ceremony at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy.
“All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again,” Mr. Gates said. “But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.”
Over all, the report portrayed a precarious security situation and criticized Shiite militias for the worsening violence more explicitly than previous versions had.
It said the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki has not confronted despite American pressure to do so, had had the greatest negative impact on security. It is likely that Shiite militants are now responsible for more civilian deaths and injuries than terrorist groups are, the report said.
But the report also held out hope that decisive leadership by the Iraqi government might halt the slide toward civil war.
While noting that efforts by Mr. Maliki to encourage political reconciliation among ethnic groups had shown little progress, it said that Iraqi institutions were holding and that members of the current government “have not openly abandoned the political process.”
The Pentagon assessment, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly.
The new report, completed last month, noted two parallel trends.
On the one hand, the Iraqi security forces are larger than ever, with 322,600 Iraqi soldiers, police officers, and other troops, an increase of 45,000 since August. Iraqi forces also have increasingly taken the lead responsibility in many areas.
The growth in Iraqi capabilities, however, has been matched by increasing violence. That raises the question of whether the American strategy to rely on the Iraqi forces to tamp down violence is failing, at least in the short term.
The Bush administration has decided to step up substantially the effort to train and equip the Iraqi forces. A major question being pondered by Mr. Bush is whether that is sufficient, or whether more American troops are needed in Baghdad to control the violence and stabilize the city.
According to the Pentagon, the weekly average of 959 attacks was a jump of 175 from the previous three months. As a consequence, civilian deaths and injuries reached a record 93 a day.
Deaths and injuries suffered by Iraq’s security forces also climbed to a new high, 33 a day, while American and other allied deaths and injuries hovered at 25 a day, just short of the record in 2004, when the United States was involved in battles in Falluja and elsewhere.
The increase in violence coincided with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when there had previously been a temporary spike in attacks, but also reflected the deeper sectarian passions that have flared since an attack in February 2006 on a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
According to Pentagon data used in formulating the report, there were 1,028 sectarian “executions” in October. That was a slight dip from July, when there were 1,169 executions, but a major increase since January, when there were 180. During this period, “ethno-sectarian incidents” have steadily risen, the report noted.
Security difficulties varied in different parts of the country. While sectarian strife was the biggest problem in Baghdad, in Anbar Province it was attacks by Sunni militants. North of Baghdad, in Diyala and Bilad, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda have been battling the Mahdi Army, it says.
While Shiite militias are active, the group known as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is still a major threat, despite the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its leader. “The emergence of Abu Ayub al-Masri as leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq demonstrated its flexibility and depth, as well as its reliance on non-Iraqis,” the report noted.
Indications of progress were few. The report credited the Iraqi government with taking “incremental” steps at assuming more responsibility and said its security forces “have assumed more leadership in counterinsurgency and law enforcement operations.” But it remained “urgent” for the Iraqi government “to demonstrate a resolve to contain and terminate sectarian attacks.”
In a briefing for reporters, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, a senior aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Baghdad operation had been constrained because the Iraqi government had not allowed American and Iraqi troops to “go in and neutralize Sadr City,” the base for the Mahdi Army.
Crude oil output was 2.3 million barrels a day, 7.5 percent higher than in August but still below the government’s goal of 2.5 million barrels.
Proponents of sending more troops to Iraq cited the report to argue that only Americans could ensure security in the short term and that more were needed. Critics said it showed that the initial effort by the American military to reinforce Baghdad had failed to stop the killing.
Gen. James T. Conway, who took over this fall as commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters in Missouri on Saturday that among other options, President Bush was considering sending five or more combat brigades to Iraq, or about 20,000 troops.
General Conway said he believed that the Joint Chiefs would support such an increase as long as “there is a solid military reason for doing so.” He said sending more troops just to be “thickening the mix” in Baghdad would be a mistake.
Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was opposed to more troops. “Everything I’ve heard and everything I know to be true lead me to believe that this increase at best won’t change a thing,” he said, “and at worst could exacerbate the situation even further.”
--Carl Hulse contributed reporting.
PENTAGON CITES SUCCESS OF ANTI-U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ
By Ann Scott Tyson
December 19, 2006
[GRAPHIC TITLE: Escalating Attacks: Violence in Iraq has risen to record levels, according to a new Pentagon report. The graphic shows average daily casualties for civilians, coalition forces, and Iraqi security forces, respectively, during eight periods: Pre-sovereignty (23, 26, 7), sovereignty (26, 26, 14), election (33, 17, 18), pre-constitution (39, 17, 20), referendum & election (37, 16, 19), government transition (58, 16, 21), government established (period 1) (91, 19, 31), and government established (period 2) (93, 25, 33).]
The Pentagon said yesterday that violence in Iraq soared this fall to its highest level on record and acknowledged that anti-U.S. fighters have achieved a "strategic success" by unleashing a spiral of sectarian killings by Sunni and Shiite death squads that threatens Iraq's political institutions.
In its most pessimistic report yet on progress in Iraq, the Pentagon described a nation listing toward civil war, with violence at record highs of 959 attacks per week, declining public confidence in government and "little progress" toward political reconciliation.
"The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace," said Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed journalists on the report. "We have to get ahead of that violent cycle, break that continuous chain of sectarian violence. . . . That is the premier challenge facing us now."
The rapid spread of violence this year has thrown the government's future into jeopardy, Pentagon officials said.
"The tragedy of Iraq is that in February in Samarra, the insurgents achieved what one could call a partial strategic success -- namely, to trigger what we've been dealing with ever since, which is a cycle of sectarian violence, that indeed is shaking the institutions," Peter W. Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said at the briefing.
He was referring to the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariya mosque, a holy Shiite shrine, in the ethnically mixed city of Samarra north of Baghdad.
Rodman said insurgent efforts to derail the political process, which he called "the strategic prize," had previously failed. But in 2006, he said, insurgents succeeded in hampering the new government from "getting on its feet."
The 50-page Pentagon report, mandated quarterly by Congress, also stated for the first time that the Shiite militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has replaced al-Qaeda as "the most dangerous" force propelling Iraq toward civil war, as Shiite militants kill more civilians than do terrorists.
And this report, unlike the prior one, omitted any explicit statement that Iraq is not in a civil war. Sunni and Shiite militias, aided at times by government forces, are gaining legitimacy by protecting neighborhoods and providing relief supplies, it said.
"The situation in Iraq is far more complex than the term 'civil war' implies," said the report, titled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq." "Conditions that could lead to civil war do exist," it said, but added that the Iraqi government, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, "could mitigate further movement toward civil war and curb sectarian violence."
Driven by sectarian fighting, and a Ramadan surge, attack levels in Iraq hit record highs in all categories nationwide as the number of U.S. and coalition casualties surged 32 percent from mid-August to mid-November, compared with the previous three months, the report said. Over the same period, the number of attacks per week rose 22 percent, from 784 to 959.
Iraqi civilian casualties also increased, "almost entirely the result of murders and executions," the report said. Since January, before the mosque bombing, ethno-sectarian executions rose from 180 to 1,028 in October; ethno-sectarian incidents rose from 63 to 996 over the same period.
The escalation of violence in Iraq comes despite increased troop levels -- including a higher-than-anticipated U.S. force level of 140,000 troops and a growing contingent of Iraqi security forces, which this month are projected to reach the goal of 325,000 trained and equipped.
The report noted problems with Iraqi forces, however, saying the number of soldiers and police actually "present for duty" is far lower than the number trained and equipped.
Subtracting those Iraqi forces killed and wounded, and those who have quit the force, only 280,000 are "available for duty," Sattler said. About 30 percent of that number are "on leave" at a time, he said, leaving fewer than 196,000 on the job.
Iraqi police forces in particular are increasingly corrupt, according to the report, which says that some police in Baghdad have supported Shiite death squads. The police "facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations," it said. "This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions."
As a result of mass defections or police units being pulled off duty, the number of Iraqi police battalions rated as having "lead responsibility" in their areas fell from six to two, the report said, although officials said that number has since increased.
The Iraqi army has steadily increased the number of its battalions in the lead, from 57 in May to 91 in November, although some units have experienced high attrition when ordered to deploy to different regions of Iraq, such as Baghdad and Anbar.
Sattler implied that no number of U.S. or Iraqi troops would be great enough to quash the revenge killings. "I don't know how many forces you could push into a country, either U.S. or coalition or Iraqi forces, that could cover the entire country, where these death squads wouldn't find somebody," he said.
Indeed, the report documented that major U.S. and Iraqi military operations in the fall did not quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. Attacks dipped in August, but rebounded strongly in September after death squads adapted to the increased U.S. and Iraqi presence.
Asked in light of that whether they supported a surge of thousands of U.S. troops into Baghdad, one of several options under consideration by a White House review of Iraq strategy, Sattler and Rodman declined to offer an opinion. The report said the U.S. military plans to steadily pull out of cities and consolidate its bases. Meanwhile, the remaining 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces are expected to be placed under Iraqi government control in 2007.
At the same time, Iraqi public concern about a civil war has grown, while confidence in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has dropped significantly as his efforts at political reconciliation have shown "little progress," the report said.
Nationwide, 60 percent of Iraqi people expressed a perception of worsening security conditions.
The sectarian violence has also led to an increasing number of internal refugees, as about 460,000 people have been displaced since February, the report said, citing Iraqi statistics. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 Iraqis are leaving the country each day.