Iraqi Casualties Are Up Sharply, Study Finds
September 2, 2006
WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 — Iraqi casualties soared by more than 50 percent in recent months, the product of spiraling sectarian clashes and a Sunni-based insurgency that remains “potent and viable,” the Pentagon said in its latest comprehensive assessment of security in Iraq.
During the period from the establishment of the new Iraqi government on May 20 until Aug. 11, the average number of weekly attacks jumped to almost 800. That was a substantial increase from earlier this year and almost double the number of the first part of 2004.
As a consequence, Iraqi casualties increased 51 percent over the last reporting period. The document notes that, based on initial reports, Iraqi casualties among civilians and security forces reached nearly 120 a day, up from about 80 a day in the pervious reporting period from mid-February to mid-May. About two years ago they were running about 30 a day.
“Although the overall number of attacks increased in all categories, the proportion of those attacks directed against civilians increased substantially,” the Pentagon noted. “Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shia extremists each portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups.”
The Pentagon report, titled “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly. It covers a broad range of subjects, including the economy, public attitudes, and security.
This time, the study is the focus of special interest because of increasing fears that Iraq is sliding into civil war and because it is being published at a time when President Bush and members of his cabinet have been trying to present a strong case in support of the war, in the face of vehement criticism from Democrats.
The report does not take account of the latest efforts to bring order to Baghdad, operations that involved 12,000 additional soldiers, including some 7,000 additional American troops. Col. Thomas Vail, the commander of a brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters on Friday that his troops had made progress in recent days in tamping down the violence in the capital. The last several days have been particularly bloody, with about 250 Iraqis killed and scores wounded since Sunday. The Pentagon acknowledged that the grim data on attacks, casualties and executions was distressing. “It’s a pretty sober report this time,” said Peter Rodman, a senior Pentagon official, who met with reporters to discuss it. “The last quarter, it’s been rough. Sectarian violence has been particularly acute and disturbing.”
Democratic lawmakers portrayed the report as evidence that the administration’s strategy was failing. “They have not provided the real resources, in terms of both military and civilian advisers, nor real dollars to reconstruct and help Iraq emerge from this period of instability,” Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said.
The report chronicles dangers on an array of fronts. Although the Sunni-based insurgency has received less news media attention since the surge of sectarian violence, the report cautions that it is resilient and strong. The number of attacks in Anbar Province, a vast Sunni-dominated region in western Iraq, averages more than 30 a day.
Regarding Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s operations in Iraq, the report says the network’s “cellular nature” has enabled it to continue attacks despite the death of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
But sectarian strife has emerged as the biggest worry. In recent months, the Pentagon noted, “The core conflict in Iraq changed into a struggle between Sunni and Shia extremists seeking to control key areas in Baghdad, create or protect sectarian enclaves, divert economic resources, and impose their own respective political and religious agendas.” Echoing recent statements by senior American military commanders, the report says that “conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi population has increased in recent months.”
The report notes that sectarian violence is gradually expanding north to Kirkuk and Diyala Province. Further, the confidence of Iraqis in the future has diminished, according to public opinion surveys cited in the Pentagon report.
Still, the study says the fighting in Iraq does not meet the “stringent international legal standards for civil war,” without further explanation. Even so, the sectarian fighting has been bloodier than ever.
In discussing daily casualty rates, the report did not distinguish between the number of dead and wounded. But it noted that execution-type killings, in particular, reached a new high in July. “The Baghdad Coroner’s Office reported 1,600 bodies arrived in June and more than 1,800 bodies in July, 90 percent of which were assessed to be the result of executions,” the report states.
The report says that progress has been made in fielding Iraqi Army units and police that can take over the main responsibility for security. It says 5 Iraqi Army divisions, 25 brigades and 85 battalions have the lead for security in their areas. It notes that a lack of noncommissioned officers and absenteeism are obstacles to fielding an effective Iraqi force. Though the 63-page report does not discuss military operations in Baghdad in detail, it has become clear in recent months that Iraq could not be effectively secured without the active involvement of the Americans. When the Americans cut back patrols in Baghdad, violence rose and American commanders decided to send additional troops to the capital from elsewhere in the country.
The report notes that Iraq’s Interior Ministry does not have a system to determine how many of the forces trained by police advisers are still on the job. Advisers from the American-led forces estimate that the attrition rate is about 20 percent a year.
Citing polling data from the International Republican Institute, the report states that almost 80 percent of Iraqis thought in April 2006 that the general situation would be better in a year. By June, it was less than 50 percent. “In general, Iraqis have had an optimistic outlook,” the report stated. “However, as time has passed, their optimism has eroded.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company