By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Attacks and casualty levels against civilians and military personnel in Iraq have risen "substantially" since the December elections, but Iraqis have confidence the new Baghdad government will improve the situation, according to the Defense Department's quarterly report to Congress.
"The formation of the new, permanent Iraqi government that addresses key sectarian and political concerns could help reverse the attack trend," states the report, which measured progress in Iraq through May.
Although the report states that since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, attacks have increased against rival sectarian groups and populations, it says that al-Qaeda "has been unsuccessful in driving Iraq to civil war [although] Sunni and Shia Arab reprisals elevated the level of violence throughout this period."
Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies and has closely studied the Iraq insurgency, yesterday criticized the new Pentagon report as presenting "a fundamentally false picture of the political situation in Iraq, and of the difficulties ahead." He said it "does not prepare the Congress or the American people for the years of effort that will be needed even under 'best case' conditions and the risk of far more serious forms of civil conflict."
Saying "only the U.S. government has the resources and access to information that provide a comprehensive overview of the situation," Cordesman added, "The American people and the U.S. Congress need an honest portrayal of what is happening, not lies by omission and 'spin.' "
For example, he notes the poll of Iraqis' confidence in their new government's ability to improve the situation is described as a "nationwide survey" with no explanation of who was polled and how. He also points out that despite the increase in sectarian killings and the failure to form a government after the elections, the number of Iraqis with doubts hardly changed.
Cordesman said the report "highlights real problems with crime and militias and the importance of sectarian, tribal and ethnic violence," but he took issue with the Pentagon assertion that 90 percent of the suicide bombings in Iraq are carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists, saying, "This may be what some want to believe, but there is no validation."