Pentagon Report Shows Violence in Iraq at a High

The Pentagon's quarterly report on Iraq shows overall situation, as measured by U.S., Iraqi and civilian casualties, violence hit a three-year high between February and May.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here's a quote from the Pentagon's latest assessment of the U.S. troops surge in Iraq. It reads, "Iraqi and coalition forces have had initial success at reducing violence in Baghdad." What the report doesn't say is that overall violence in Iraq - as measured by U.S., Iraqi, and civilian casualties - hit a three-year high between February and May.

NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz has been studying the report and he joins us now. Good morning, Guy.

GUY RAZ: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, the report seems to stress the reduction in sectarian violence. How does that square with the large increase in overall violence?

RAZ: Well, this is interesting, Renee, because the violence can of course mean a number of things. It can mean criminal violence, or in Iraq, Sunni on Sunni violence or Shia on Shia violence. But it basically also means large-scale attacks, like bombings carried out by al-Qaida. And the Pentagon basically defines the term sectarian violence in a very narrow way. It's open to all kinds of interpretation. So for example, when al-Qaida carries out an attack -at least according to the Pentagon's reading - these attacks are not considered sectarian attacks, even though many of these attacks target Iraqi Shiites.

So, in a sense, it's kind of tricky math. Because if you look at the period from February to May, the number of casualties - and, I mean, I'm talking about Iraqi civilians, Iraqi troops, U.S. troops - they are higher. The daily totals are higher than at any other time in the past three years.

MONTAGNE: And this report assesses events up to early May, but the total number of U.S. troops deployed as part of the build-up hadn't arrived yet.

RAZ: Right, and that's why the Pentagon in a sense is trying to sort of downplay this report, saying it's too early to assess the overall impact of the surge. At this point, all of the U.S. forces are deployed as part of the surge, so the Pentagon is saying that it's going to be able to offer a better assessment in July when it delivers its next report to Congress, and then in September when General David Petraeus delivers his overall report to Congress.

But if this report actually took into account May - the month of May - it may have been worse in a sense, because there are several indications to show that sectarian violence actually increased in May. And then, of course, May was the third deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003.

MONTAGNE: And then what about that positive news in the report that violence is slightly down in Baghdad, and then also in another key area, right?

RAZ: Right, in the Western Iraqi province of al-Anbar. And as you mentioned, in some parts of Baghdad - where, of course, U.S. and Iraqi forces have increased their numbers. So, in a sense, it's pushed violence to other areas. But in every single other Iraqi province, violence is up, which in a sense kind of obscures some of the positive indicators.

If you look at Basra, for example, in the south of Iraq - the province of Basra - Shia on Shia violence, for example, has spiked. So overall, you now have a situation in Iraq where the average number of weekly attacks is around 1,000.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, what does this new Pentagon report say about political progress?

RAZ: Well, the signs here aren't very good, either. The Iraqi parliament was meant to pass an oil law for the distribution of oil wealth among Iraqis. It didn't do it. It was supposed to pass a provincial election law. It didn't do it. And basically, the bottom line here is reconciliation. The report says without political and sectarian reconciliation, the security environment simply will not improve.

MONTAGNE: Guy, thanks very much. NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz.

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