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Pentagon report: Iraq violence hit new high in recent months

ARLINGTON, Va. — Insurgent attacks and resulting coalition and Iraqi deaths peaked in the three months following February’s bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, according to a Iraq progress report issued Tuesday by the Pentagon.

Average weekly attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi security forces (ISF) and Iraqi civilians climbed to 620 in the period between Feb. 11 and May 12, 2006, according to the latest security and stability report the Defense Department is required to send congressional lawmakers every quarter.

Only two other periods in Iraq’s post-Saddam history approach the recent numbers for violence, according to the report: the sovereignty period between June 29 to Nov. 26, 2004, which included the battle for Fallujah and major clashes with Shiite insurgents belonging to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army; and the referendum/vote period between Aug. 29, 2005 to Feb. 10, 2006.

Each of those periods averaged about 550 weekly attacks, the report said.

Average daily casualties for coalition, ISF and Iraqi civilians also soared during the “government transition” period covered by the new report, reaching about 78 per day.

Until now, the highest number of daily casualties reported had been 59 per day, during Iraq’s pre-constitution period between Feb. 12 and Aug. 28, 2005, the report said.

“Perspective is the thing,” Air Force Maj. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, told Stars and Stripes Tuesday. “This [report] is the aftermath of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.”

The Feb. 22 attack against one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines shattered a fragile peace between Shiite and Sunni sects in many parts of Iraq, including several Baghdad neighborhoods, and led to widespread sectarian violence.

“But the key thing,” Vician said, “Is that [the violence] did not produce a civil war, as some people predicted.”

What does seem to be happening, the report said, is that the violence is gradually shifting away from coalition forces and towards the ISF and soft target civilians.

In January 2006, Iraqi civilians were targeted in 9 percent of all attacks, the report said, but by March, that figure rose to 13 percent.

Those numbers were even higher in ethnically mixed Baghdad, where 18 percent of all attacks were against civilians in March, the report said.

In addition to charting the security environment, Vician said, “the report also points to progress in areas across the board,” particularly regarding the Iraqi security forces “and their areas of operation, their capabilities, and their ability to lead operations.”

The report said that as of May 15, there were 117,900 Ministry of Defense personnel trained and equipped, compared to 106,900 as of Jan. 23.

A total of 57 Iraqi army battalions and six national police battalions have “security lead in their territory,” including the 60 percent of Baghdad where the ISF has the lead, the report said.

In comparison, the report issued to Congress on Feb. 24, 2006, said there were 53 Iraqi army battalions in the lead.


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