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WASHINGTON — Attacks against coalition forces in Iraq averaged nearly 180 a day in January, the highest level since major combat operations ended and more than double the rate one year ago, according to intelligence officials.

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said the attacks matched the previous high, set in October 2006.

Attacks on civilians also reached a new high, with almost 50 per day in January, according to the agency. Attacks on Iraqi Security Forces remained consistent with recent months, at about 30 a day.

Still, Maples and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell emphasized that the coalition forces are still vital to Iraq’s stability, calling them “the primary counter to a breakdown in central authority.”

Several senators bristled at recent reports of Iraqi troops’ limited involvement in recent Baghdad security sweeps, noting the president’s plan to put more pressure on the Iraqi government to take over security responsibility.

“Why did we start the program before key components were in place, before we put in harm’s way U.S. forces?” said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., ranking minority member on the committee. “… I do not see strong evidence the Iraqi forces are measuring up.”

Maples said two of three brigades promised for Baghdad security have been deployed to the city, and Iraqi commanders on the ground still are organizing how they’ll take the lead in future security efforts. Warner asked the agency to provide additional information about current involvement of those Iraqi forces.

McConnell said intelligence experts are keeping a close eye on assistance coming to insurgents across Iraq’s borders. However, he noted that most of the fighting in Iraq is still mainly sectarian conflicts.

The Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that less than 10 percent of insurgents in Iraq are foreign fighters, and the majority of those are suicide bombers.

The agency reiterated previous administration statements that unless the Iraqi government makes significant political progress in the next 12 to 18 months, “the security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to late 2006.”

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