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Benchmarks: Iraq Quieter, But Not By much

Thursday was a mixed day for U.S. forces in Iraq, with one soldier killed and three others injured by an improvised explosive device, or IED, near Balad, north of Baghdad. File photo.

Washington (UPI) July 8, 2005
In the week before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was required to report to Congress on a "comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures of stability and security" in Iraq, casualties figures told of a significant improvement compared with the dark days of April through June.

However, the insurgency still showed lots of life around the California-sized country of 25 million people.

Thursday was a mixed day for U.S. forces in Iraq, with one soldier killed and three others injured by an improvised explosive device, or IED, near Balad, north of Baghdad. And insurgents continued to show their ability to disrupt basic utilities and services by blasting water pipes serving Baghdad, the third significant damage to the city's water supply in three weeks.

Insurgents also displayed their ability to strike with apparent impunity even in the relatively more peaceful Shiite majority south of the country. The body of Karim Khamass, a professor of Arabic at Basra University, was discovered Thursday a day after he was kidnapped.

On the plus side, however, three insurgents were killed in a clash with security forces Thursday while trying to plant a bomb on the road between Baghdad and Mahaweel, south of the capital.

The number of U.S. troops killed in combat or in accidents in Iraq over the nine day period from June 28 to July 6 fell significantly to a total of only 14 from all causes, according to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution.

While this still suggested an average of more than 370 per year being killed by hostile action or in accidents, it was a significant improvement on trends in May and June.

By July 6, the number of those killed by enemy action stood at 1,348, an increase of seven in nine days. The total number of U.S. fatalities stood at 1,752 since the start of hostilities.

According to the Iraq Index Project, the number of U.S. troops wounded in action in Iraq since the start of hostilities stood at 13,190 by July 6, an increase of 146 in nine days. This, too, marked a very significant improvement on the previous figure of 244 wounded in the previous eight days. But it indicated that while the trend was positive, the casualties were still far from negligible.

The number of Iraqi military and police killed per month, however, continues to steadily rise. From July 1 to July 7, some 49 were killed, projecting an average of 196 for the month, the IIP said.

This also marked a positive trend, down from the record high of 270 in May and 296 in June, but still comparable to figures of 200 killed in March and 199 killed in April. Both those months were marked by explosive surges in the number and scale of insurgent attacks.

As of June 28, estimates of the total number of Iraqi civilians killed since the start of hostilities in March 2003 ranged from between 22,800 to 25,600 according to the Iraq Body Count web site, and from 12,700 to 23,000 up to May 28 according to the IIP.

However, when deaths from crime and chaos were factored in, the IIP's estimate soared to between 29,700 to 60,800 Iraqi civilians killed in the past two-and-a-quarter years.

The number of multiple casualty bombings appeared stable in the first week of July. As of July 6, there were five of them, or slightly less than one a day. That would suggest a total of 30 for the whole month, exactly the same figure recorded for June and only a marginal improvement on the 32 recorded in May. Even worse, that figure would still be far higher than any previous month in the insurgency before May this year.

That figure alone strongly suggests that despite the activation of growing numbers of Iraqi police and security forcers and an energetic and very ambitious counter-insurgency operations in and around Baghdad over the past two months, U.S. and allied Iraqi forces have yet to get a handle on or make significant inroads into the infrastructure planning and organizing the terror attacks against police and civilians.

Despite the activation of more Iraqi security force units, the casualties from crime and chaos in Baghdad continued unabated, the IIP concluded this week. Through May, crime related deaths in the capital city of 5.6 million people were still running at around 90 a month, it said. The IIP also warned that these figures might be too low as they were only based on the bodies recovered and brought to the Baghdad morgue.

On a more positive note, the IIP reported that the number of non-Iraqi civilian contractors killed in the insurgency per month has been steadily falling since April, when it peaked at 20. The figure fell to 10 in May and four in June. As of March 2005, there were more than 20,000 non-Iraqi private military contractors in Iraq -- 6,000 of them in armed tactical roles, according to a study by Peter Singer, published in Foreign Affairs magazine.

The number of non-Iraqi civilians killed in the country per month has also been steadily falling since April when it reached 20. It fell to 11 killed in May, four in June and, as of July 7, two for the first week of the month. However, if that rate is maintained through July, the number of non-Iraqi civilians killed in the insurgency could be double June's and close to May's figures.

Overall, the figures in the first week of July told a story of significant improvement compared with the previous month and confirmed a trend of improvement in recent weeks. However, it was too soon to tell whether this would be reliably maintained and was due to the activation and increased use of more Iraqi units, or whether it marked another breathing space during which the insurgents were catching their breath and regrouping, as they have done on previous occasions after prolonged spurts of increased activity.

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Washington (UPI) Jul 05, 2005
How Long Should We Stay in Iraq? In his speech about the conflict in Iraq that he gave at Fort Bragg, N.C., on June 28, President Bush declared, "We will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

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