Attacks in Iraq highest in two years |

Attacks in Iraq highest in two years

Alaa al-Marjani/AP PhotoAn Iraqi examines human remains on a mass grave site in Karbala on Monday. A grave holding more than 30 bodies, apparently from Saddam Hussein's regime was found, police said.

WASHINGTON (AP) ” Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians jumped sharply in recent months to the highest level since Iraq regained its sovereignty in June 2004, the Pentagon told Congress on Monday in the latest indication of that country’s spiraling violence.

In a report issued the same day Robert Gates took over as defense secretary, the Pentagon said that from mid-August to mid-November, the weekly average number of attacks increased 22 percent from the previous three months. The worst violence was in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar, long the focus of activity by Sunni insurgents.

At a ceremonial swearing-in attended by President Bush, Gates warned that failure in Iraq would be a “calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.” He said he intended to go to Iraq soon to get the “unvarnished” advice of U.S. commanders on how to stabilize the country.

A bar chart in the Pentagon’s report to Congress gave no exact numbers but indicated the weekly average had approached 1,000 in the latest period, compared to about 800 per week from the May-to-August period. Statistics provided separately by the Pentagon said weekly attacks had averaged 959 in the latest period.

The report also said the Iraqi government’s failure to end sectarian violence has eroded ordinary Iraqis’ confidence in their future. That conclusion reflects some of the Bush administration’s doubt about the ability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make the hard decisions U.S. officials insist are needed to quell the violence.

“The failure of the government to implement concrete actions in these areas has contributed to a situation in which, as of October 2006, there were more Iraqis who expressed a lack of confidence in their government’s ability to improve the situation than there were in July 2006,” it said, calling for urgent action in Baghdad.

Issued just hours after Gates took the oath of office to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, and amid an effort by the Bush administration to find a new war strategy, the report made no mention of a timetable for ending U.S. military involvement.

It said that as security conditions permit and the Iraqi army and police become more capable, U.S. forces will move out of the cities, reduce the number of bases from which they operate and conduct fewer visible patrols.

Overall, the 49-page report, the latest in a series of quarterly updates, is titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.” It used somewhat less stark language to describe the security and political problems in Iraq than the previous version sent to Congress on Sept. 1. Still, the outlook presented in the report was far from rosy.

“The national perception of worsening conditions for peace and stability within Iraq has been accompanied by erosion of confidence in the ability of the government of Iraq to protect its citizens,” the report said. One-quarter of the population believes the army and police are corrupt and driven by sectarian interests, it added.

The development of an Iraqi army and police is making progress, the report said, but much remains to be done.

It said, for example, that the goal of training and equipping an Iraqi army of about 137,000 soldiers is 98 percent completed, although it also noted that the actual number of troops available for duty on any given day is far fewer, due to absenteeism, casualties, desertions and leaves of absence.

The report indicated that the number of Iraqi army battalions in combat ” generally numbering a few hundred each ” has declined from 114 battalions in August to 113 in October and 112 last month. The decline was not explained.

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