WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 — 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 an 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 and 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.
The period of the study does not cover either a surge in bloody attacks during the past week nor a relatively low number of civilian casualties earlier in the month; a joint American-Iraqi security campaign in Baghdad is expected to contribute to a relatively low civilian death toll for all of August.
The assessment provides bad news on a variety of fronts.
The Pentagon distributed the report on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend, a common time for government officials to put out bad news. A Pentagon officials denied that this was the intent and said the report was issued when it completed.