Insurgent attacks in Iraq rising

Post-election decline has reversed, top officials at Pentagon acknowledge

April 27, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The number of insurgent attacks, which dropped after the Iraqi elections in January, has crept back to the levels of a year ago, senior Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon that insurgent attacks - including roadside bombs, suicide missions and shootings - number 50 or 60 a day, up from 40 a day in the weeks after the elections.

About half of the attacks result in injuries or damage to property, he said.

Official acknowledgment that the frequency of attacks has returned to last spring's levels drew repeated questions about whether the U.S.-led effort is defeating the stubborn insurgency two years after the fall of Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the issue is not whether the U.S.-led coalition is defeating the insurgency "in the traditional conventional context of using the word `winning' or `losing' in a war."

Instead, Rumsfeld said, it will be up to the Iraqis to defeat the insurgency through economic and political progress, such as developing a constitution and a functioning government.

"These efforts will take time," he said.

Some defense analysts and Pentagon officials have said that defeating insurgencies, such as those in El Salvador in the 1980s or the Philippines in the early 1900s, can take a decade or more.

"I think we are winning, OK?" Myers said. "I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time."

The number of attacks is a "poor measure of whether you're winning or losing," he said.

"In terms of the number of incidents, it's right where it was a year ago," Myers said. "It's nowhere near the peak [of about 80 attacks a day] we saw. ... They have the ability to surge, and whether we're seeing a surge or not, I don't know. "

Myers pointed to Iraq's national elections and its efforts to develop a multiethnic government, though he noted that progress has been "slower than some would have hoped."

Iraqis are providing an increasing number of intelligence tips, he said, such as information that led to the capture of 10 suspects in the downing of a civilian helicopter last week.

"Almost any indicator you look at, the trends are up," said Myers. "So we're definitely winning. However, there will be a lot of challenges ahead. And in the end, the Iraqis must do that for themselves."

Rumsfeld said the number of U.S. troops in Iraq has dropped by 12,000, to 138,000, and that many of those who remain are focused on training Iraqi security forces, not on combating the insurgency.

Pentagon officials said 159,000 Iraqi security troops have been deemed "trained and equipped," an increase from about 127,000 in January. But the Senate Armed Services Committee, citing Pentagon documents, said this year that nearly all of those troops are lightly equipped and have very little mobility.

Also yesterday, Myers said U.S. troops came close to capturing terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who officials say is responsible for the most deadly attacks in Iraq. "We were close," Myers said, declining to elaborate because of concerns about disclosing operational details.

Myers and Rumsfeld declined to speculate on the future of Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

A least one Pentagon report has sharply criticized Sanchez and his top staff members for not making sure the prison was adequately staffed and operating properly.

Neither Rumsfeld nor Myers would say whether Sanchez, who is scheduled to step down this summer as commander of the Army's V Corps in Germany, will assume another command or receive be promoted to four-star general.

"Until you have a place for someone to go and you know precisely what it is, you can't answer questions like that," Rumsfeld said. "We've got a lot of pieces on the board, and we're looking at a lot of different moves."

Myers said Sanchez "did a terrific job inside Iraq" and confirmed that the Army's inspector general has cleared Sanchez of wrongdoing. "He's a very attractive officer," the general said.

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