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Attacks in Iraq at All-Time High, Pentagon Report Says

December 19, 2006 at 6:15 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Attacks on U.S. personnel, on Iraqi forces, and Iraqi civilians are at record highs; that word came late yesterday in a Pentagon report.

For the three months, from August to November of this year, average daily attacks on Iraqi civilians numbered 93, more than triple the rate of two years ago. Attacks on Iraqi security forces averaged 33 per day, nearly five times the rate two years ago. And average daily attacks on U.S. personnel were 25, about the rate of two years ago, but considerably higher than earlier this year.

For more on who and what is behind the rate of violence, we go to Ann Scott Tyson, military reporter for the Washington Post.

Welcome.

ANN SCOTT TYSON, Washington Post: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Did the report from the Pentagon come to any conclusions about who’s behind the 22 percent higher rate of attacks, for instance, on coalition forces?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, it certainly did. It said that the Shiite militia, and primarily those led by Muqtada al-Sadr, are more dangerous now in Iraq than al-Qaida and that their attacks are injuring and killing more civilians than are terrorist attacks, and also in areas such as Baghdad they’re a greater threat to U.S. troops.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, was there a standard for what kind of incident was reported as attacks? Was any fire directed in the general direction of a coalition member recorded as an attack on coalition forces?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, there are criteria, yes. Any kind of fire on coalition forces would be recorded as an attack.

It gets a little murkier when you get into the sectarian violence that they’re trying to measure. And there, they have a slightly higher standard for confirming somehow that this was a sectarian-driven event.

But, certainly, the attacks on coalition forces would be pretty straightforward, a bomb going off, small arms fire, an RPG or something of that nature.

Measuring security in Iraq

RAY SUAREZ: One of the findings of the Iraq Study Group a few weeks ago was that there had been a systematic undercounting of casualties among civilians. Did these new figures contained in the Pentagon report come up with figures that were closer to what the ISG was reporting?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, I think that the latest figures are probably consistent. Their measurements are the same as the previous reports. I don't think there's been any revision of the standards.

Again, I would suspect that there are civilian casualties not included in these numbers. They say that it's about 93 a day of killed and injured, which is extremely high. That is in line with the U.N. reporting on this, as far as I know. So there is some consistency there.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the official name of the report is "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq." And I don't want to give people the idea that it just counted attacks. They were trying to take a picture of the whole ground, weren't they, counting barrels of oil pumped, megawatt hours of electricity and things like that? What's the wider picture in the conclusion of this report?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, the wider picture -- I mean, certainly, the security does tend to impede political and economic progress, and that was one of the more interesting comments that an official briefing on the report made yesterday, that, whereas in the past, insurgent efforts to derail the political process had failed, this official said that they had achieved a partial strategic success in actually impeding the ability of the new government to get on its feet.

So, in the political arena, there was serious impact from the security problems. They also saw increasing fear among Iraqi civilian population, as they surveyed them, of civil war. They found that decreasing confidence in the Iraqi government in civilians they surveyed.

On the economic side, there was less change. They did find some increase in oil production and electricity, but distribution problems, again impacted by violence, meant that there was not a commensurate increase in people actually receiving those services. Unemployment remained high and a serious cause of people joining the insurgency.

Increasing the number of troops

RAY SUAREZ: Is the overall security situation pictured in the report related in any way to another story reported in your paper today of the Joint Chiefs of Staff not wanting to follow the ideas coming from the civilian leadership about raising the number of troops in Iraq for the near term?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, another interesting finding of this report was essentially that, when they tried that in Baghdad over the summer and the fall, when they increased the levels of U.S. troops and, to a certain extent, Iraqi troops they found that that strategy did not produce results.

They found that the violence in Baghdad dipped slightly in August, but then very quickly rebounded in September, as insurgents and sectarian militia, in some cases aided by Iraqi police, were able to adapt and quickly escalate the violence again.

So, yes, I think that, as General Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said recently, they only want to increase troops with a measurable purpose. They want to know that they're going in there to achieve something, not simply to be thrown at the problem blindly.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in the program tonight, we heard Tony Snow tell reporters at the White House that there was no daylight between the administration and the service chiefs on this question. But what did your reporting turn up? And was this something that was common across all the service leaders?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Well, our reporting has turned up, among the chiefs here, that those who provide the forces, yes, a reluctance. I think Secretary Rumsfeld, just before he departed, also referred to this. They want a purpose in troop increases.

Now, these are the men who have to deal with the recruiting problems, the strain on the force. Now, that does not rule out the possibility that General Casey over in Iraq might decide to ask for more troops for some sort of a temporary surge.

But even his superior commander, General Abizaid, has stated publicly that even an increase of Marines and Army troops of 20,000 is not sustainable. And, clearly, the readiness ratings of the Army show that there are not troops prepared for other contingencies.

So there are a lot of competing pressures here. I don't think that the chiefs are saying they're unable to do it, but I think they're saying that it would come at a cost.

A timeframe?

RAY SUAREZ: And the president spoke to your paper today and mentioned that he's ready to increase the size overall of the services, too, didn't he?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Yes, and that's something that they very much want. Both the Army and the Marine Corps are saying that they do not have enough troops to accomplish even their current missions, let alone any future surge.

RAY SUAREZ: And how long are we talking about? When you set a new goal for the size of a force, is that something that takes place over a number of years?

ANN SCOTT TYSON: Yes, the Army has been trying to grow already for the past few years. They're now at about 507,000 active-duty Army soldiers. They're trying to get to 512,000. But the Army chief predicted that they could grow approximately 7,000 a year, 6,000 to 7,000, and maybe more, with added incentives, so it would take time.

RAY SUAREZ: Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post, thanks for being with us.

ANN SCOTT TYSON: My pleasure.