Saturday, August 04, 2007

Latest numbers on " the Surge"

Iraqi deaths spike five months into US troop surge

by Joseph Krauss

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the country's brutal civil conflict rose by more than a third in July despite a five-month-old surge in US troop levels, government figures showed Wednesday.

At least 1,652 civilians were killed in Iraq in July, 33 percent more than in the previous month, according to figures compiled by the Iraqi health, defence and interior ministries and made available to AFP.

Casualties continued to mount as a massive car bomb tore through a major Baghdad intersection -- the fifth such blast to strike the city centre in the past week -- killing at least 10 people.

Meanwhile, two critical reports emerged pointing to weaknesses in American efforts to rebuild and stabilise Iraq, which has been in the grip of several overlapping civil conflicts for more than four years.

July's civilian toll was slightly higher than the number for February, when the United States began a "surge" in troops aimed at flooding Baghdad with reinforcements to stem Iraq's sectarian bloodletting.

The Iraqi government refuses to release official casualty figures, but the new numbers tally with the personal experience of many Baghdad residents, who insist the streets of the capital remain extremely dangerous.

"I was smart enough to abandon my house before the militia killed me, as it killed two of my friends," said a Sunni man who once worked as a perfume dealer in mainly Shiite east Baghdad before fleeing the city earlier this year.

"When the security crackdown was launched, I felt some hope, but it faded away and came to an end a couple of days ago when the same militia I escaped from killed another friend of mine and his brother."

The man, who would not give his name for fear of his safety, said everyone in his neighbourhood knows who killed the men, but will not speak out for fear of the local Shiite militia, which dominates the area.

Violence is mounting at a time when Iraq's beleaguered government is paralysed by political infighting.

Six Sunni Arab ministers are refusing to work with their Shiite and Kurdish colleagues in a cabinet power-sharing dispute, and the national assembly has taken the month off without having passed any significant legislation.

Meanwhile, a US Government Accountability Office probe revealed the American military cannot account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraq's beleaguered security forces in 2004 and 2005.

According to a July 31 report, the US military "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armour and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces."

The weapons disappeared from records between June 2004 and September 2005, as the military struggled to rebuild the disbanded Iraqi forces from scratch amid mounting attacks from Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

The report warned that while more attention had since been devoted to tracking weapons, "a review of the January 2007 property books found continuing problems with missing and incomplete records."

A report from the US administrations Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said a system for transfering completed public works projects from the US military to the Iraqi government was "broken."

"Since June 2006, the GOI (government of Iraq) has not formally accepted a single IRRF (Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund) project," he said.

One project singled out for criticism was a Baghdad power station, which was rebuilt at a cost of 90 million dollars but broke down when inexperienced Iraqi engineers cannibalised one power plant to fix another and broke both.

Baghdad's residents are now lucky to get two hours of electricity per day.

Bowen's report also described a "corruption epidemic" inside the Iraqi government which he branded as dangerous as a "second insurgency".

Meanwhile the US military said four more US troops have been killed, bringing US losses since the March 2003 invasion to 3,652, with 82 troops killed in July, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

US casualties declined after the first deadly three months of the surge as troops have moved from carrying out large-scale assaults on previously unsecured areas to manning combat outposts established.

Original article posted here.

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