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Violence in Iraq Belies Claims of Calm, Data Show

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Sept. 25 -- Less than four months before planned national elections in Iraq, attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and private contractors number in the dozens each day and have spread to parts of the country that had been relatively peaceful, according to statistics compiled by a private security firm working for the U.S. government.

Attacks over the past two weeks have killed more than 250 Iraqis and 29 U.S. military personnel, according to figures released by Iraq's Health Ministry and the Pentagon. A sampling of daily reports produced during that period by Kroll Security International for the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day. In contrast, 40 to 50 hostile incidents occurred daily during the weeks preceding the handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, according to military officials.

A U.S. Army soldier takes aim from a rooftop in Baghdad's Sadr City, where violence has become commonplace. (Jim Macmillan -- AP)

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Reports covering seven days in a recent 10-day period depict a nation racked by all manner of insurgent violence, from complex ambushes involving 30 guerrillas north of Baghdad on Monday to children tossing molotov cocktails at a U.S. Army patrol in the capital's Sadr City slum on Wednesday. On maps included in the reports, red circles denoting attacks surround nearly every major city in central, western and northern Iraq, except for Kurdish-controlled areas in the far north. Cities in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south, including several that had undergone a period of relative calm in recent months, also have been hit with near-daily attacks.

In number and scope, the attacks compiled in the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence that contrasts sharply with assessments by Bush administration officials and Iraq's interim prime minister that the instability is contained to small pockets of the country.

Speaking with President Bush at the White House on Thursday, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the security situation in Iraq was "good for elections to be held tomorrow" in 15 of the country's 18 provinces. Elections for a national assembly are scheduled for January.

Allawi told Washington Post reporters and editors on Friday that "for now the only place which is not really that safe is Fallujah, downtown Fallujah. The rest, there are varying degrees. Some -- most -- of the provinces are really quite safe."

The Kroll reports are based on nonclassified data provided by U.S.-led military forces, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, private security companies working in Iraq and nongovernmental organizations. The reports, which Kroll has refused to distribute to journalists, were provided to The Post by a person on the list to receive them. They cover the period of Sept. 13 through Sept. 22 -- but do not include Sept. 15, 18 or 19, for which reports were not available.

To many natives and foreigners living in Iraq, the portrait of progress that Allawi painted during his trip to Washington does not depict reality.

After his speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, Allawi described Baghdad as "very good and safe." In fact, during the period for which security reports were available, the number of attacks in the capital averaged 22 a day.

On Wednesday, there were 28 separate hostile incidents in Baghdad, including five rocket-propelled grenade attacks, six roadside bombings and a suicide bombing in which a car exploded at a National Guard recruiting station, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 50.

"People are very naive if they think Baghdad is safe," said Falah Ahmed, 26, a cigarette vendor in center city. A nearby tailor, Hisham Nuaimi, 52, said Allawi "is either deceiving himself or the Americans."

"What do you call a city with a car bomb every day?" he said. "Is this the security they are achieving?"

At the same time, however, the city retains an air of normalcy. Motorists clog the roads during rush hour. Markets bustle with shoppers. Restaurants fill up with lunchtime customers.

In his remarks Thursday, Allawi did not specify the three provinces he deemed insecure, nor did he specify what he meant when he contended that violence in those provinces had been limited to "certain pockets." But since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Baghdad and three of the country's largest and most populous provinces -- Anbar in the west, Salahuddin to the north and Babil to the south -- have been the principal hotbeds of insurgent violence. And according to the Kroll reports, recent violence appears to have been widespread rather than limited. On Wednesday, for instance, attacks in Salahuddin province occurred in Taji, Balad, Tikrit, Samarra, Baiji, Thuliyah and Dujayl -- the seven largest population centers in the area.

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