Saturday, December 03, 2005

U.S. Military Touts Drop in Suicide Bombings

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a high-ranking military officer and spokesperson in Iraq, is saying that the number of suicide bombings in November went down to their lowest level in seven months. Lynch gives the credit for this drop to U.S.-Iraqi offensive operations in the Syrian border region.

Lynch told reporters that suicide bombings declined to 23 in November as U.S. and Iraqi forces were overrunning insurgent strongholds in the Euphrates River valley west of the capital.

Communities along the river are believed used by foreign fighters, who slip into the country from Syria and travel down the river highway to Baghdad and other cities.

Lynch called suicide bombings the insurgents' "weapon of choice" because they can inflict a high number of casualties while sacrificing only the attacker. Classic infantry ambushes draw withering American return fire, resulting in heavy insurgent losses.

"In the month of November: Only 23 suicide attacks -- the lowest we've seen in the last seven months, the direct result of the effectiveness of our operations," Lynch said.

Car bombings -- using vehicles parked along streets and highways and detonated remotely -- have declined from 130 in February to 68 in November, Lynch said.

I guess this is part of the U.S. military's "favorable information" campaign, but it's misleading in a number of ways. Although the number of suicide bombings may have been lower in November, they have gone down before and then spiked again to higher levels. The AP's Chris Tomlinson notes that actual casualties were much higher than the number of bombings would indicate:

...[T]he trend in Iraq has not resulted in less bloodshed: 85 U.S. troops died during the month, one of the highest tolls since the invasion.
[Also,]...suicide attacks have not consistently decreased over the past year. After more than 70 such attacks in May, the number fell in August by nearly half and then climbed to over 50 two months later.

And despite the decline over the past month, there has been no letup in the relentless toll of American deaths at a time of growing discontent in the United States over the Iraq war.

The U.S. command said Thursday that four American service members were killed the day before, three of them from hostile action and the fourth in a traffic accident. The deaths raised the American fatality toll for November to at least 85.

That was down from the 96 American deaths suffered in October — the fourth deadliest month since the war began in March 2003. But it was well above the 49 deaths in September. U.S. monthly death tolls have hit 80 or above during 10 of the 33 months of the war.

There also has been no decline over the past six months in the Iraqi death toll from suicide attacks, according to an Associated Press tally. In November, at least 290 Iraqis were killed in such attacks, more than double the figure from the previous month. The count shows the Iraqi toll ranging from at least 69 deaths in August to at least 356 in September.

November's suicide attacks included near-simultaneous bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin, killing 76; a car bombing at a Shiite funeral north of the capital, killing 36; and a car bombing near a hospital in Mahmoudiya, killing 30.

Juan Cole writes that 87 U.S. troops died in November:

[That is]...among the highest death tolls for a 30-day period since the war began, and one wonders about the rate of severely wounded. Moreover, in one two-week period in November, bombers (suiciders or not) killed hundreds of Iraqis, spreading insecurity, fear and anger.

It raises the question of whether the guerrillas are depending more heavily on roadside bombs and remotely detonated bombs rather than on kamikazes. Whatever the case, the mere decline in the latter seems to have little or nothing to do with the level of security in the country, which is generally poor, and, indeed, among the worst of any country in the world.

Prof. Cole also notes that the Ukraine's withdrawal of its almost 1,000 troops in Iraq will be complete by the end of this year:

It seems likely that the US will be virtually alone in Iraq as a foreign military power by mid-2006.

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