Pentagon Report Sees Increasing Attacks in Iraq

The Pentagon has released its latest report on security conditions in Iraq, and the assessment is grim. The report says attacks in Iraq have increased 22 percent since the summer. It also says a Shiite militia group has replaced al-Qaida in Iraq as the main cause for concern.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Pentagon has released its latest report on security conditions in Iraq, and the assessment is grim.

The report says attacks in Iraq have increased 22 percent since the summer. And it says a Shiite militia group has replaced al-Qaida in Iraq as the main cause for concern.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now.

And Tom, this report covers a four-month period from early August to early November, so it's quite recent. Can you fill us in on some of the findings?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, you had the big one. It's a 22 percent increase in attacks over the past report, really, since this summer. And we've seen a steady increase in the number of average daily casualties, really, over the past two and a half years.

In April of 2004, the average daily casualties among civilians was 23. Now it's 93. So it's really a steep increase in violence over the past two and a half years, and then particularly since the summer.

MONTAGNE: And that Shiite group that's a major concern - which group would that be?

BOWMAN: That's the Mahdi Army, which is controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr. Now it's interesting. He's a political ally of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. And what the report says - and I think this is the most fascinating part of it - that the Mahdi Army has replaced al-Qaida in Iraq as the greatest cause for violence in the country. And that's really a stunning development, because again, you basically have a political ally of the Iraqi leader, the biggest cause for violence in the country.

So now the question is what to do about it. And we sat down yesterday with Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Rodman, and the reporters pressed him on that. What do you do about this? And he and another general on the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, well, one thing you can do is to clear the Mahdi Army - what's known as a hostile organization. Now that means you can capture or kill its members on site. They said there are no plans to do that, but they're in intense discussions with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, over the way ahead.

MONTAGNE: Well, that would seem rather a tricky, politically.

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Does the report make clear the reasons for the increase in violence?

BOWMAN: Well, again, it's these - a lot of it is the militia groups. It's al-Qaida in Iraq. One of the things the death squads are doing is they're trying to ethnically cleanse Baghdad of all Sunnis. The Mahdi Army is a Shia group. We've been seeing a lot of that over the past several months. When I was in Baghdad back in September, I stood on a street corner with an American Army officer, and we saw three Sunni families being forced out of the city. They got all their belongings in their truck. And most of the Sunnis are heading out to Anbar province, which is the large Sunni area of the country.

MONTAGNE: Now, this is the most detailed assessment since the American-led effort to secure Baghdad began just this last August. Does this suggest that that effort is a failure?

BOWMAN: Absolutely. And back about a month ago, Major General Bill Caldwell -he's the military spokesman in Baghdad - said he was disheartened by this Operation Together Forward, which was a huge increase in American and Iraqi forces in the capital, to try to bring it under control. Now the question is what's the way ahead for Baghdad? How do you bring it under control?

One of the big things they're talking about now is a surge in American troops, anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 increase, to try to pacify the country. And that's a raging debate now in Washington.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Bowman.

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