Friday, September 1, 2006

Tribal and religious violence is increasing in Iraq but has not become a civil war, according to a Pentagon quarterly report to Congress made public yesterday.

“Sectarian tensions increased over the past quarter, manifested in an increasing number of execution-style killings, kidnappings, and attacks on civilians, and increasing numbers of internally displaced persons,” the report stated.

Sunni and Shi’ite extremists, especially the terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq and rogue elements of the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) “are increasingly interlocked in retaliatory violence and are contesting control of ethnically mixed areas to expand their existing areas of influence,” the report said.

“Throughout the past quarter, rogue JAM members continued a campaign of overt executions and mass kidnappings of Sunni civilians,” the report said. “At the same time, Sunni extremists continued to respond by carrying out large-scale and mass-casualty bombings of Shia gatherings and culturally significant sites.”

The report stated that concerns over civil war have increased in recent months, and conditions that could lead to one exist. “Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward civil war can be prevented,” the report said.

For its part, the Iraqi government yesterday released a report saying that violent deaths among civilians in Iraq may have fallen by a quarter last month. The partial data, provided by Iraq’s interior ministry and based on figures from the health ministry, showed 769 civilians were killed in August, down 28 percent from 1,065 in July, the worst month recorded.

The figures tend to back U.S. military confidence that a crackdown in the capital has slowed the bloodletting some.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials have given speeches seeking to rally public support for resolving the conflict in Iraq, which began with the March 2003 military operation to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein.

While the number of all types of attacks increased, the number of attacks against civilians increased substantially, the report said. A total of 11 percent of attacks targeted civilians in April and the number increased to 15 percent in June.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments “are continuing the military, diplomatic and political actions needed to prevent a civil war and bring the situation in Baghdad under control,” the report said.

The sectarian violence is limited to “the communal level” and Iraq’s national institutions “are holding,” the report said. The military reported that the average number of weekly attacks grew by 15 percent from the earlier four-month period and Iraqi casualties grew by 51 percent from the earlier period.

Most of the violence took place in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists, insurgents and illegal armed groups with a small element of “foreign suicide operatives,” the report said.

Al Qaeda and Sunni attacks on Shi’ites are aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions and have resulted in retaliatory attacks on Sunnis by rogue Shi’ites that seek to create Shi’ite enclaves in Baghdad. To counter the violence, military forces have “increased targeting of … death squads” from both sects.

The report said U.S., allied and Iraqi government forces continued to make progress toward improving stability in Fallujah and some parts of northern Iraq.

“Although sectarian violence threatens the effectiveness of the government of Iraq, terrorists have failed to derail Iraq’s political process, or to widen their political support among the Iraqi people,” the report said, noting that data show most of the Iraqi people support the army and reject al Qaeda’s vision for Iraq’s future.

The report said Iraqi security forces are growing in size and capability and are assuming more “lead combat responsibility,” including operations against insurgents, from coalition forces. About 277,600 Iraqi soldiers and police have been trained and equipped, an increase of more than 14,000 since the last quarterly report.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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