by Nicolas Pelham / Financial Times (London) –
BAGHDAD (February 12 2004) — A confidential report prepared by the US-led administration in Iraq says that the attacks by insurgents in the country have escalated sharply, prompting fears of what it terms Iraq’s “Balkanisation”. The findings emerged after a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the top US general in Iraq, John Abizaid, on Thursday.
“January has the highest rate of violence since September 2003,” the report said. “The violence continues despite the expansion of the Iraqi security services and increased arrests by coalition forces in December and January.”
The report, which is based on military data and circulated to foreign organisations by the US aid agency USAid, diverges with public statements by US officials who claim that security in the country is improving.
“The security risks are not as bad as they appear on TV,” Tom Foley, the coalition official overseeing Iraq’s private-sector development, said at the US Commerce Department headquarters in Washington on Wednesday. “Western civilians are not the targets themselves. These are acceptable risks.”
According to the report, “January national review of Iraq”, strikes against international and non-governmental organisations increased from 19 to 26 in January.
It said that high-intensity attacks involving mortars and explosives grew by 103 percent from 316 in December to 642 in January; non-life threatening attacks, including drive-by shootings and rock-throwing, soared by 186 per cent from 182 in December.
It also recorded an average of eight attacks a day in Baghdad alone, up from four a day in September, and a total of 11 attacks on coalition aircraft.
Near Miss for US General
The report emerged as Iraq faced one of its worst weeks of violence in the 10-month occupation of Iraq. According US military officials, General Abizaid escaped unharmed but cancelled a walkabout, after attackers hiding in a mosque fired on his convoy as it entered a military base in the town of Falluja, west of Baghdad. It was not clear if the insurgents knew they were targeting Gen Abizaid and officials said a six-minute gun-battle ensued.
In other attacks, eight mortars were fired at a US base in Iraq, US officials said, and the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera reported that Japanese forces faced their first attack, when a mortar was fired at their base near the southern town of al-Samawah without causing casualties. (The BBC also reported that a truck bomb exploded after penetrating the perimeter fence of Baghdad’s international airport, where thousands of American troops are based.)
The attacks followed the killing of two US soldiers in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad and a pair of car-bombings on Tuesday and Wednesday which killed 100 Iraqis, most of whom had been volunteering for the Iraqi security forces.
The report makes clear how dependent Iraq’s stability is on investment in the country’s economy. “A fear of some is the ‘Balkanisation’ of Iraq if security, economic and infrastructure situations do not improve,” it says.
Violence and Ethinic Frictions Escalate as US Occupation Falters
It attributed much of the civilian violence to rising ethnic tensions between Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, noting that several bodies were found in the south “with hands bound and bullet wounds to the head”.
But attacks on military targets, which had seen two months of decline, rose even faster than those on civilians, it said, particularly in the “Sunni triangle”, north and west of Baghdad. It described the “profuse availability” of roadside bombs, the favoured weapon of the insurgents, as “alarming”, saying attacks had surged almost 200 per cent.
The report shed little insight into who was behind the attacks, but said “multiple reports confirm the presence of al-Qaeda in the country”.