Global Policy Forum

Iraq Study Sees Rebels' Attacks as Widespread


By James Glanz and Tom Shanker

New York Times
September 29, 2004

Over the past 30 days, more than 2,300 attacks by insurgents have been directed against civilians and military targets in Iraq, in a pattern that sprawls over nearly every major population center outside the Kurdish north, according to comprehensive data compiled by a private security company with access to military intelligence reports and its own network of Iraqi informants.

The sweeping geographical reach of the attacks, from Nineveh and Salahuddin Provinces in the northwest to Babylon and Diyala in the center and Basra in the south, suggests a more widespread resistance than the isolated pockets described by Iraqi government officials.

The type of attacks ran the gamut: car bombs, time bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, small-arms fire, mortar attacks and land mines. "If you look at incident data and you put incident data on the map, it's not a few provinces, " said Adam Collins, a security expert and the chief intelligence official in Iraq for Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group Inc., a private security company based in Las Vegas that compiles and analyzes the data as a regular part of its operations in Iraq.

The number of attacks has risen and fallen over the months. Mr. Collins said the highest numbers were in April, when there was major fighting in Falluja, with attacks averaging 120 a day. The average is now about 80 a day, he said. But it is a measure of both the fog of war and the fact that different analysts can look at the same numbers and come to opposite conclusions, that others see a nation in which most people are perfectly safe and elections can be held with clear legitimacy. "I have every reason to believe that the Iraqi people are going to be able to hold elections," said Lt. Col. William Nichols of the Air Force, a spokesman for the American-led coalition forces here.

Indeed, no raw compilation of statistics on numbers of attacks can measure what is perhaps the most important political equation facing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the American military: how much of Iraq is under the firm control of the interim government. That will determine the likelihood - and quality - of elections in January.

For example, the number of attacks is not an accurate measure of control in Falluja; attacks have recently dropped there, but the town is controlled by insurgents and is a "no go" zone for the American military and Iraqi security forces. It is a place where elections could not be held without dramatic political or military intervention. The statistics show that there have been just under 1,000 attacks in Baghdad during the past month; in fact, an American military spokesman said this week that since April, insurgents have fired nearly 3,000 mortar rounds in Baghdad alone. But those figures do not necessarily preclude having elections in the Iraqi capital.

Pentagon officials and military officers like to point to a separate list of statistics to counter the tally of attacks, including the number of schools and clinics opened. They cite statistics indicating that a growing number of Iraqi security forces are trained and fully equipped, and they note that applicants continue to line up at recruiting stations despite bombings of them.

But most of all, military officers argue that despite the rise in bloody attacks during the past 30 days, the insurgents have yet to win a single battle. "We have had zero tactical losses; we have lost no battles," said one senior American military officer. "The insurgency has had zero tactical victories. But that is not what this is about. "We are at a very critical time," the officer added. "The only way we can lose this battle is if the American people decide we don't want to fight anymore."

American government officials explain that optimistic assessments about Iraq from President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi can be interpreted as a declaration of a strategic goal: that, despite the attacks, elections will be held. The comments are meant as a balance to the insurgents' strategy of roadside bombings and mortar attacks and gruesome beheadings, all meant to declare to Iraq and the world that the country is in chaos, and that mayhem will prevent the country from ever reaching democratic elections.

In a joint appearance last week in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush and Dr. Allawi painted an optimistic portrait of the security situation in Iraq. Dr. Allawi said that of Iraq's 18 provinces, "14 to 15 are completely safe." He added that the other provinces suffer "pockets of terrorists" who inflict damage in them and plot attacks carried out elsewhere in the country. In other appearances, Dr. Allawi asserted that elections could be held in 15 of the 18 provinces.

Both Mr. Bush and Dr. Allawi insisted that Iraq would hold free elections as scheduled in January. "The question is not whether there are attacks," said one Pentagon official. "Of course there are. But what are the proper measurements for progress?"

Statistics collected by private security firms, which include attacks on Iraqi civilians and private security contractors, tend to be more comprehensive than those collected by the military, which focuses on attacks against foreign troops. The period covered by Special Operations Consulting's data represents a typical month, with its average of 79 attacks a day falling between the valleys during quiet periods and the peaks during the outbreak of insurgency in April or the battle with Moktada al-Sadr's militia in August for control of Najaf.

During the past 30 days those attacks totaled 283 in Nineveh, 325 in Salahuddin in the northwest and 332 in the desert badlands of Anbar Province in the west. In the center of Iraq, attacks numbered 123 in Diyala Province, 76 in Babylon and 13 in Wasit. There was not a single province without an attack in the 30-day period. Still, some Iraqis share their prime minister's optimism when it comes to the likelihood that elections, and a closely related census, can be carried out successfully amid so much violence. "We are ready to start," said Hamid Abd Muhsen, an Iraqi education official who is supervising parts of the census in Baghad. "I swear to God."

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