Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Violence in Iraq declines, but pace is high

COUNTING THE DEAD The average daily toll of war-related deaths this year is 62, compared to 33 last year as violence intensifies in regions outside of Baghdad


Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi Sunni volunteers, former insurgents who have joined forces with US and Iraqi troops to fight al-Qaeda, load one of their men onto the back of a pickup truck yesterday after he was shot in a gunbattle with suspected al-Qaeda fighters.


This year's US troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.

Some of the recent bloodshed appears the result of militant fighters drifting into parts of northern Iraq, where they have fled after US-led offensives. Baghdad, however, still accounts for slightly more than half of all war-related killings -- the same percentage as a year ago, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press.

The tallies and trends offer a sobering snapshot after an additional 30,000 US troops began campaigns in February to regain control of the Baghdad area.

It also highlights one of the major themes expected in next month's Iraq progress report to the US Congress: Some military headway, but extremist factions are far from broken. In street-level terms, it means life for average Iraqis appears to be even more perilous and unpredictable.

The AP tracking includes Iraqi civilians, officials, police and security forces killed in attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings -- largely the work of Shiite death squads.

The figures are considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The true numbers are likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted. Insurgent deaths are not a part of the Iraqi count. The findings include:

Iraq is suffering about double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared with last year -- an average daily toll of 33 last year, and 62 so far this year.

Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of last year. So far this year, about 14,800 people have died in war-related attacks and sectarian murders. AP reporting accounted for 13,811 deaths last year. The UN and other sources placed last year's toll far higher.

Baghdad has gone from representing 76 percent of all civilian and police war-related deaths in Iraq in January to 52 percent last month, bringing it back to the same spot it was roughly a year ago.

According to the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, the number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.

However, US Brigadier General Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said violence in Iraq "has continued to decline and is at the lowest level since June 2006." He offered no statistics to back his claim, but in a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday he warned insurgents might try to intensify attacks in Iraq to coincide with three milestones: the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the beginning of Ramadan and the report to the US Congress.

The US military did not get all the additional US forces into Iraq until June 15, so it would be premature to draw a final statistical picture of the effect of the surge.

But initial calculations validate fears that the Baghdad crackdown would push militants into districts north of the capital, including Diyala Province where US and Iraqi soldiers have conducted major operation to clear its main city, Baqubah, of al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters.

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