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Drifting Towards Civil War In Iraq

File photo: A US soldier injured in Iraq.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Over the past week in Iraq, the same pattern that we noted in our last Benchmarks column has held: Not many U.S. troops have been killed there but an awful lot keep getting wounded. This pattern has now held for a considerable period of time -- at least seven weeks.

It therefore predates the notorious Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara by Sunni insurgents that set off a still continuing wave of Shiite reprisal attacks and multiple killings that have brought Iraq closer than ever to civil war.

Thus, the strategic axis of the insurgency has moved away from insurgent attacks on Iraqi police and military forces to inter-communal violence. Yet the insurgents have retained their capability to simultaneously inflict continuing significant attrition on the 130,000 U.S. troops in the country.

And, as we have repeatedly emphasized in this column, the far larger numbers of U.S. troops wounded rather than killed, especially those wounded too seriously to return to active duty, represent a far broader and more statistically significant indicator of the scale of insurgent activity and the degree to which it is succeeding or failing to inflict casualties on U.S. forces.

The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq through Thursday, March 30 since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,327, according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of only eight killed in nine days, at an average rate of 1.125 per day.

This is one of the lowest rates of killings of U.S. troops over periods of around a week since the early days of the insurgency. And it is even lower than the figure of 49 in the previous 39 day period, an average rate of just over 1.3 killed per day.

The good news is that this is a more than 60 percent improvement on the rate of 3.1 killed per day in early February. And it is a more than 350 percent improvement on the 33 U.S. soldiers killed in only seven days from Jan. 11 through Jan. 17, an average of 4.7 soldiers killed per day.

The bad news, however, is that 112 U.S. soldiers were injured in the same nine-day period, an average of 12.44 per day. This is certainly a significant improvement of more than 20 percent over the very bad rate of 15.8 injured per day during the preceding 39 day period from Feb. 11 through March 21 when 616 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq.

But it was still more than 70 percent worse than the Feb. 4-10 period when 47 U.S. soldiers were injured at an average rate of just under seven per day. And it was still worse than the rate of the five-day period from Jan. 30 through Feb. 3 when 58 U.S. soldiers were injured, according to the DOD figures, at an average rate of 11.6 per day.

These figures are also of significance in that they represent a trend over almost seven weeks -- a far longer period than the ones in which we usually examine casualty rates and their statistical trends in the conflict.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through March 30, 10, was 17,381, according to the Department of Defense figures.

Some 7,987 of those troops were wounded so seriously that they were listed as "WIA Not RTD" in the DOD figures. In other words: Wounded in Action Not Returned to Duty. This meant an increase of only six such casualties in nine days, an average rate of only 0.67 such injuries per day. This was a very welcome improvement on the previous trend of between 255 to 275 such casualties in 39 days -- depending on which Department of Defense revised figures one uses -- an average rate of from 6.0 to just under 6.6 injured per day.

The latest figures were therefore also vastly better than the 3.3 per day average of the Feb. 4-10 period or the Jan. 30-Feb. 3 period when 24 U.S. troops were wounded seriously enough that they were not returned to duty at an average rate of 4.8 per day.

These figures should also be seen in the context of another trend in the Iraqi conflict. Since the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samara last month, for the first time Iraqi Shiites have started reacting in a popular, violent manner on a broad scale against the Sunni community.

Since UPI began running this column nearly 10 months ago, we have tracked many such short-term periods of around a week when statistically trends proved to be aberrations -- either much better or much worse than long-term overall trends. It is therefore too soon to say whether this particular trend will continue and how significant it will prove to be. But it remains a most dramatic and welcome one.

Even if this trend should continue, it may yet be vastly overshadowed by the rapidly growing tensions between U.S. forces and the Shiite Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq. Last Sunday, U.S. forces killed between 16 and 37 followers of Sadr in a raid on one of their compounds in the Baghdad area. Following the clash, even the Shiite -dominated Iraqi government that U.S. efforts did so much to create and support called on U.S. forces to leave Iraq.

Nor can it be said that the general level of violence in the insurgency has significantly decreased. On the contrary, although it has decreased significantly since the peak last week in February after the Samara mosque bombing, casualties in Shiite-Sunni clashes continue at a far higher level than before.

In addition, some 25,000 people from both communities -- or 0.1 percent of the total Iraqi population of 25 million -- have been forced from their homes, probably permanently, because of escalating tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. Fomenting this inter-community conflict was clearly a long-term strategic goal of the insurgents and they are now significantly closer to achieving it.

The growing strains between even the democratically elected Shiite-Kurdish government and U.S. forces following the raid on Sadr's followers this week must be seen as another major strategic and political gain for the insurgents.

Therefore, as we have noted before, President George W. Bush's optimism and determination to stay the course in Iraq must be tempered by these sobering macro-political trends. In the short term, the rate of serious casualties inflicted on U.S. forces has significantly fallen. But with inter-community violence still continuing at alarmingly high levels and U.S.-Shiite tensions growing, this could yet be the calm before an even worse storm.

Source: United Press International

Related Links

US Choices In Iraq Being Engulfed By Unforeseen War
Washington (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Many observers believe that Iraq is about to be engulfed in a sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Some think that this has already begun. If this civil war does indeed occur, it will present difficult choices for the United States.

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