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.
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.
Moreover, the security reports indicate that a majority of the hostile acts committed against U.S. and Iraqi security forces over the past two weeks have occurred outside those three provinces. For example, the cities of Amarah in the southern province of Maysan and Samawah in Muthanna province, also in the south, had long been relatively free of violence but are now experiencing frequent attacks, the reports indicate.
There also has been an unusual spike in the number of attacks to the north of the capital. More attacks have been reported in the northern cities of Mosul, Samarra and Tikrit over the past two weeks than in Fallujah and Ramadi, two areas of frequent fighting in Anbar.
Military officials contend, however, that does not mean the restive areas west of Baghdad -- the area known as the Sunni Triangle -- are no longer insurgent strongholds. The likely explanation, the officials said, is that U.S. Marines stationed in Anbar have sharply reduced their patrolling, making them less vulnerable to roadside attacks. But that strategy, officials say, has allowed insurgent cells to expand in the province.
"There are fewer attacks here because we're out on the road less," an officer at the Marine headquarters near Fallujah said on condition of anonymity. "But you shouldn't conclude from that that things are any safer."
As news reports have detailed over the past several months, the insurgents' campaign of violence is not limited to U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Iraqi civilians working for the interim government have been killed and kidnapped. So, too, have Iraqis who work as interpreters and truck drivers for the U.S. military. Foreign civilians, even aid workers and fellow Arabs, are regarded as fair game by the insurgents.
The security situation has grown so dire that many of the few remaining nongovernmental aid organizations left in Iraq are making plans to withdraw. The United Nations, which was supposed to help organize the national elections, has just 30 employees in the country, all of whom are quartered in the U.S.-controlled, fortified Green Zone. Foreign journalists, who used to roam the country, are now largely restricted by safety concerns to Baghdad hotels surrounded with concrete walls and barbed wire.
With insurgents targeting not just U.S. troops but seemingly everyone in the country -- Iraqi security forces, Iraqis working for the interim government, foreign contractors, journalists, aid workers and others -- it is difficult for even ordinary Iraqis to ignore the threat.
"When we leave home, we never know if we're going to return home alive or not," said Mohammed Kadhim, a taxi driver.