By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
Shiite militias, which have engaged in the widespread killing and sectarian removal of Sunni residents in Baghdad, now enjoy wide support in the capital, the report said. "In Baghdad, a majority of residents report that militias act in the best interests of the Iraqi people," it said, while only 20 percent of respondents polled nationwide shared that view. Maliki's promises to disarm militias have not produced a concrete plan, the report said.
Mass-casualty attacks on Shiite targets by Sunni insurgents, including the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, have increased Shiite wariness of reconciliation, the report said. "The Shi'a dominated government is vulnerable to pressure from large numbers of economically disadvantaged, marginalized Shi'a" who offer "street-level support" for Shiite militias.
The report came as top congressional Democrats sent a letter to President Bush yesterday urging him to start a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"The escalation has failed to produce the intended results," wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).
Republicans responded to the report as simply one more in a string of downbeat assessments. "People are saying it's a mixed bag when it comes to the surge, and that's the best face you can put on it," said a Senate Republican aide familiar with the report.
Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, emphasized the continued high overall level of violence in Iraq, saying he had expected it to drop 10 percent as a result of the increase in U.S. troops. "It bodes very badly for the political sustainability of this mission in Iraq," he said.
In an assessment of the Iraqi government's progress on key political benchmarks, the report says that new legislation on distributing Iraqi oil revenue, completed in February, has yet to be presented for parliamentary debate, and that implementing laws have not yet been drafted. "Strong resistance" remains to allowing the mostly Sunni former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs, and promised legislation on that issue "could be delayed by months." Constitutional reforms have been partially drafted but not yet submitted to the Iraqi parliament, and decisions on dates for new provincial and local elections "may be delayed until the fall."
Iraq's economic progress is also mixed, with some success in controlling inflation, while oil production remains stagnant and demand for electricity outstrips lagging supply.
Staff writers Josh White and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.