No Drop in Iraq Violence Seen Since Troop Buildup
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.
The report -- the first comprehensive statistical overview of the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq -- coincided with renewed fears of sectarian violence after the bombing yesterday of the same Shiite shrine north of Baghdad that was attacked in February 2006, unleashing a spiral of retaliatory bloodshed. Iraq's government imposed an immediate curfew in Baghdad yesterday to prevent an outbreak of revenge killings.
Yesterday's attack adds to tensions faced by U.S. troops, who are paying a mounting price in casualties as they push into Iraqi neighborhoods, seeking to quell violence that the report said remains fundamentally driven by sectarianism.
Iraq's government, for its part, has proven "uneven" in delivering on its commitments under the strategy, the report said, stating that public pledges by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in many cases produced no concrete results.
Iraqi leaders have made "little progress" on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance, the report said, calling reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions "a serious unfulfilled objective." Indeed, "some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq," it said, noting that 36 percent of Iraqis believe "the Iraqi people would be better off if the country were divided into three or more separate countries."
The 46-page report, mandated quarterly by Congress, tempers the early optimism about the new strategy voiced by senior U.S. officials. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, for instance, in March described progress in Iraq as "so far, so good." Instead, it depicts limited gains and setbacks and states that it is too soon to judge whether the new approach is working.
Sectarian killings and attacks -- which were spiraling late last year -- dropped sharply from February to April, but civilian casualties rose slightly, to more than 100 a day. Despite the early drop in sectarian killings, data from the Baghdad morgue gathered by The Washington Post in May show them returning to pre-"surge" levels last month.
Suicide attacks more than doubled across Iraq -- from 26 in January to 58 in April -- said the report, which covers the three months from mid-February to mid-May.
Violence fell in Baghdad and Anbar province, where the bulk of the 28,700 more U.S. troops are located, but escalated elsewhere as insurgents and militias regroup in eastern and northern Iraq. In Anbar, attacks dropped by about a third, compared with the previous three months, as Sunni tribes have organized against entrenched fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, the report said.
Overall, however, violence "has increased in most provinces, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and Diyala and Ninewa provinces," the report said. In Diyala's restive capital of Baqubah, U.S. and Iraq forces "have been unable to diminish rising sectarian violence contributing to the volatile security situation," it said.
Unlike earlier quarterly reports, which the Pentagon began issuing in 2005, the latest makes no reference to the possibility that Iraq is drifting toward civil war. It attributes the bulk of the violence to "sectarian friction" that reaches deep into Iraq's Shiite-dominated government and security forces.
While most Iraqi units are performing "up to expectations," it said, some Iraqi leaders "bypass the standard chain of command" to issue orders on sectarian grounds. It cited "significant evidence" of attacks on Sunni Arabs by the predominantly Shiite government security forces, which have contributed to the displacement of an estimated 2 million Iraqis from their homes.