Saturday, August 06, 2005

Iraq Getting Worse and Worse

[Okay, one more reprint, and then for the next couple of weeks we've got "disengagement" coming up in Iz-ra-hell, so that should give me plenty of interesting stuff to write about. - HAC]

Analysis: Iraq news was bad, trends worseBy Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Published August 5, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Even by the grim standards of the summer, which has been arguably the worst time for U.S. troops and policymakers in Iraq since the huge bombings and shattering surprises of August 2003, the past week has been an especially bad one.

In quick succession, 14 U.S. Marines from a reserve regiment were killed Wednesday when their transport was blasted by a massive roadside bomb and exploded in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. And six elite snipers were ambushed and killed Monday in another attack, also in Haditha. As a result, the total U.S. military death toll in Iraq from all causes inched above the 1,800 mark.

No war is fought without casualties and it is an often overlooked tribute to the exceptional professionalism and tactical training of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and to the design of their personal body armor that casualty levels, especially the death toll, have not in fact been far higher, given the scale and intensity of the insurgency. Also, it is inevitable in the ghastly messiness of war that at one time or another, the enemy will just get lucky.

But what was most ominous about these two attacks was not the overall death toll, but the evidence they gave of mounting tactical capabilities on the part of the insurgents.

It may indeed be that the insurgents just got lucky. But the patterns of conflict in Iraq will be watched even more closely by U.S. analysts over the coming weeks to see if they can be prevented from inflicting such a scale of casualties again.

The attack on the amphibious troop carrier that killed the Marines was arguably evidence of the insurgents ability, backed by what military explosives experts believes to have been sustained and detailed mentoring for the Iran-supported Hezbollah, or Party of God, militia in Southern Lebanon, to construct far more powerful bombs than ever before.

None of the 25,000 armored Humvees that the Pentagon belatedly and eventually rushed to Iraq or amended there with heavier armored protection than they originally had would be capable of protecting the troops it carried in the face of such a blast.

Also, an insurgent message after the ambush of the snipers boasted that the operation to lure them into the trap had taken weeks. This could, hopefully, mean that such complex operations will be few and far between, and now that that U.S. forces have experienced one of them, they will be able to quickly learn and adapt, as they have done so often before, to minimize the risks of future ones. But it could also, many U.S. military analysts fear, reflect a growing expertise and far potential for increased tactical capability on the part of the insurgents.

According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, from July 8 through Aug. 3, 28 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq. Ironically, the numbers for the first four days of that period only came to seven, but then the destruction of the troop carrier Wednesday boosted the Tuesday-Wednesday toll to 20, one of the worst spikes in the more than two year history of the insurgency.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Wednesday, Aug. 3 was 13,769, an increase of 112 over the course of the week., the IIP said.

This figure remained far below the figure of 293 U.S. soldiers wounded from July 6 to July 13, but still above the grim average of over 100 U.S. soldiers injured per week, many of them losing limbs or suffering other permanent disabilities. Far more than the dramatic incidents of the Haditha bombing of the troop carrier, or the killing of the snipers, it suggested that the insurgency was continuing to run at the same serious levels as it has in recent weeks with no reduction in sight.

This sobering conclusion was supported by the level of casualties that the insurgents managed to inflict upon the Iraqi security forces during the same period of time. From July 27 to Aug. 3, 80 Iraqi troops and police were killed, an increase of more than 50 percent on the already grim figure of 52 of them killed for the previous one week period from July 20 to July 27. That brought the total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003 to Wednesday of this week to 2,797 according to the IIP figures.

The monthly breakdowns told an even more depressing story. The number of Iraqi police and troops killed jumped during the last week of July to reach a record total of 304 for the month, the highest monthly total on record yet, the IIP said. And this spike came after earlier trends recorded in previous benchmark columns over the month of July had suggested that the total figure would be a little less, or not significantly more, than the previous two months.

It also meant that the numbers of Iraqi police and military whom the insurgents are managing to kill per month has been remorselessly rising since January when it totaled "only" 103. (There was a marginal improvement in April compared with March, but so minimal as to be statistically insignificant. In all, 199 Iraqi security force members were killed in April compared with 200 the previous month according to the IIP figures.)

Apart from that minor fluctuation, this casualty figure has risen remorselessly upward over the past six months and still shows no signs at all of leveling off. In July, almost three times as many Iraqi security troops were killed as in January and February.

This also contrasts with a monthly average of only 65 Iraqi security force members killed per week from April 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2004 according to the IIP. Currently, the vastly expanded Iraqi security forces are being killed at a rate four-and-a-half times greater per month than they were then.

August looks likely to be almost as bad. For in the first three days of this month, the IIP recorded 27 Iraqi security force members killed, an average of nine a day. If sustained, that could lead to a total of 279 killed by Aug. 31, less than June or July but still significantly higher than 259 killed in May.

In conclusion, a sobering week: The headline news was bad, but the underlying trends arguably were even worse.

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