Friday, September 01, 2006

New Pentagon Report Shows Violence in Iraq Getting Worse

The Pentagon has released a 63-page report on Iraq, and it's not pretty:

Iraqi casualties soared by more than 50 percent during the roughly three-month period ending in early August, the product of spiraling sectarian clashes and a Sunni-based insurgency that remains "potent and viable," the Pentagon noted today in a comprehensive assessment of security in Iraq.

In a grim 63-page report, the Pentagon chronicled bad news on a variety of fronts. One telling indicator was the number of weekly attacks, which reached an all-time high in July.

The American-led coalition suffered the brunt of the attacks, but an increasing number are being directed against civilians. In Baghdad, for example, civilian targets accounted for 22 percent of all the attacks, up from 15 percent in April. And the attacks on Iraqi troops and civilians caused many more deaths than did those on American troops.

"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shia extremists each portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups," the report noted. "The Sunni Arab insurgence remains potent and viable."

The Pentagon report on "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq" is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly. It covers a broad range of subjects, ranging from the economy to public attitudes to the training of Iraqi security forces.

This time, the study has been the focus of special interest because of increasing fears that Iraq is sliding into civil war. And its grimmer notes, echoing recent Congressional testimony by military commanders, come at a time when President Bush and members of his cabinet have been trying to present a strong case in support of the war, in the face of vehement criticism from Democrats.

Addressing that scenario, the report notes: "Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi population has increased in recent months."

As a consequence of the rising violence, the number of Iraqi casualties -- civilian [as] well as military -- jumped to almost 120 a day. Further, the confidence of Iraqis in the future has diminished, according to public opinion surveys cited in the Pentagon report. Still, the study asserts that the fighting in Iraq does not meet the "strict" legal definition of a civil war.

Gee, that's not what U.S. troops who are actually in Iraq say. Back in March, ran an article quoting military experts and others familiar with Iraq and the larger region who say that "civil war is a reality." A whole year ago, Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former interim prime minister, said that his country was in "stage one of a civil war." And in mid-July, the LA Times noted a growing sense among Iraqi leaders that whether one calls it a civil war or not, the conflict will have to be treated like a civil war to resolve it:

Even those who hesitate to call Iraq's sectarian violence a civil war have begun saying that defusing the situation will require the international mechanisms used to mediate previous ethnic, religious and political conflicts in Central America, the former Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka.

"I start to feel the need to say that there is a civil war," said Salim Abdullah Jabouri, a Sunni politician, "in order to borrow the tools and solutions of past civil wars to apply them here, and to call upon the international community to deal with Iraq's problems on this basis."

Abu Aardvark links to a poll showing that the percentage of Iraqis who say they want Americans out of Iraq has been steadily increasing:

... 91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%. Even among the Kurds, opposition went from 19.6% to 63.3%. In other words, it isn't just that Iraqis oppose the American presence - it's that their feelings are intense: only 7.2% "somewhat oppose" and 4.7% "somewhat support."

Aardvark also reminds us that one of the reasons Pres. Bush gave in his recent press conference for his insistence that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq for as long as he is president was the claim that this is what Iraqis themselves want (h/t Juan Cole):

Q You keep -- you keep saying that you don't want to leave. But is your strategy to win working? Even if you don't want to leave? You've gone into Baghdad before, these things have happened before.

THE PRESIDENT: If I didn't think it would work, I would change -- our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it will work. It takes time to defeat these people. The Maliki government has been in power for less than six months. And, yes, the people spoke. I've cited that as a part of -- the reason I cite it is because it's what the Iraqi people want. And the fundamental question facing this government is whether or not we will stand with reformers across the region. It's really the task. And we're going to stand with this government.

Obviously, I wish the violence would go down, but not as much as the Iraqi citizens would wish the violence would go down. But, incredibly enough, they show great courage, and they want our help. And any sign that says we're going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists and creates a certain amount of doubt for people so they won't take the risk necessary to help a civil society evolve in the country.


No comments: