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Bridge Disaster Marked Black Week In Iraq

Iraqis walk among shoes lost during a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad 31 August 2005. More than 630 people were killed in a stampede and attacks as thousands of Shiite Muslim faithful gathered near the sacred shrine, officials said. Many of the dead drowned after falling of a bridge in a surge of panic triggered by rumours there were suicide bombers in the crowd, in what is by far the deadliest single incident since the US-led war on Iraq. AFP photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye.

Washington (UPI) Sep 01, 2005
It was a very bad week in Iraq - one of the worst. And that was the case no matter which metrics one chose to assess. Overshadowing everything was the horrendous death of almost a thousand people in Wednesday's disaster on the Aimma Bridge over the Tigris River.

The panic and stampede that led to so many people being crushed or suffocated on the bridge, or toppling into the vast river below, were set off by mortar rounds fired by insurgents - an all too successful symbol of the failure as yet to secure even the central access routes of the Baghdad capital from insurgent activity.

Also, the three times extended negotiations to achieve consensual agreement on the new Iraqi constitution were finally acknowledged a shaving broken down. Now the ratification procedure for the constitution will go ahead with all prominent Sunni community political leaders clearly rejecting it.

And as a study by Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warned, this in turn could lead to significantly greater popular Sunni support for the insurgents.

On top of all that, although overshadowed by the flooding of New Orleans in the domestic U.S. press, it was another bad week for U.S. forces in Iraq. The significant drop in casualties we monitored in our previous Benchmarks column was reversed.

According to official Department of Defense figures cited by the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, up to Wednesday this week, 15 U.S. soldiers were killed during the eight days of Aug. 24-31, bringing the total U.S. military dead in Iraq through August to 90. And some 13 of them were killed in hostile incidents.

This was four times, or 400 percent higher than the relatively low rate of the previous week. Instead of one U.S. soldier being killed every two days, two were dying or being killed per day.

If the rate of fatalities inflicted on U.S. forces during the particularly bad month of August were to be maintained for a year, more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers a year would die in Iraq.

By Wednesday, Aug. 31, the total U.S. military dead in Iraq from the start of major combat operations on March 19, 2003 was 1,882 of whom 1,467 were killed in action and 419 in non -hostile incidents, the IIP said.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Wednesday, Aug. 31 was 14,265, an increase of 145 over the eight days of Aug.24-31, the IIP said. This was a rate almost 50 percent greater than the 99 wounded in the previous six-day period from Aug. 18 top Aug. 23, according to the DOD figures

These figures also, even more the number of fatalities, suggested a further inexorable growth in the scale and number of insurgent attacks across Iraq. The figures were significantly higher, by more than one third, for the two weeks of Aug.3-10, when 108 U.S. troops were injured and July 28 to Aug. 3, when 112 were injured.

The rate at which Iraqi police and security forces were killed by the insurgents was very significantly down from the previous week, but still an increase on earlier in August.

Some 67 Iraqi soldiers and police were killed in the eight days from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31 - an average of just under 8.5 fatalities a day, compared to 83 killed in the six days from Aug. 18 to Aug. 24, an average of just under 14 fatalities per day.

But although this was a welcome fall in insurgent activity against Iraqi forces compared with the previous week, it still marked a significant increase in fatalities inflicted on them compared with the 48 killed from Aug. 10- 17 and the 56 killed the week before that.

In all, that brought the total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003 to Wednesday of this week to 3,051 according to the IIP figures.

The number of Iraqi police and security forces killed by the insurgents through the entire month of August was 282, well below the 300 figure that threatened from projections caused by intense insurgent activity in the early part of the month, and a modest improvement on the record 304 killed in July and the 296 killed in June.

But it still made August the third worst month of the insurgency so far in terms of the number of fatalities inflicted on Iraqi forces.

The figures confirmed our previous observation in this column that the nationwide insurgency remains capable of inflicting casualties severe and consistent enough to render any national army or police force ineffective in such circumstances, with no improvement in sight.

These figures also confirm that the numbers of Iraqi police and military whom the insurgents are managing to kill per month has been 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.

The slight drop in fatalities inflicted on Iraqi troops was therefore the only bright spot in a week where the news otherwise appeared bad wherever one looked.

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Outside View: Uncertain Iraqi Allies
Cleveland (UPI) Sep 01, 2005
In an August action In Iraq, 3/25, Cleveland's Marine Reserve unit lost six men, two sniper teams, under circumstances that were unclear. I recently received information on that incident that raises a very important question, a question with strategic, not merely tactical significance.

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