Friday, December 31, 2004

'Turning the Corner', part 1


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WASHINGTON - By key measures of the level of insurgent violence against American forces in Iraq — numbers of dead, wounded and insurgent attacks — the situation has grown worse since summer.

While those numbers don't tell the full story of the conflict in Iraq, they suggest insurgents are growing more proficient, even as the size of the U.S. force increases and U.S. commanders succeed in soliciting more help from ordinary Iraqis.

For example:

• The U.S. military suffered at least 348 deaths in Iraq over the final four months of the year, more than in any other similar period since the invasion in March 2003.
• The number of wounded surpassed 10,000, with more than a quarter injured in the last four months as direct combat, roadside bombs and suicide attacks escalated. When President Bush declared May 1, 2003, that major combat operations were over, the number wounded stood at just 542.
• The number of attacks on U.S. and allied troops grew from an estimated 1,400 attacks in September to 1,600 in October and 1,950 in November. A year earlier, the attacks numbered 649 in September, 896 in October and 864 in November.

U.S. commanders insist they are making progress, in part by taking the fight more directly to the insurgents.

Some observers are more doubtful.

"The prospects in Iraq are grim," Dan Goure, an analyst at the private Lexington Institute think tank in Washington, said Thursday. He assessed the conflict as a standoff, with no clear indication that either side will achieve victory in 2005.

"Neither side can truly come to grips with the other so far and defeat them," Goure said.

U.S. commanders constantly analyze the insurgents' tactics and make adjustments. Yet although tons of hidden weaponry and ammunition have been found, the insurgents kill almost daily with makeshift bombs they plant along roads or stuff them in cars for suicide attacks.

Pentagon statistics show that for all of 2004, at least 838 U.S. troops died in Iraq. Of that total, more than 700 were killed in action, by far the highest number of American battlefield deaths since at least 1980.

It almost certainly is the highest KIA total for any year since the Vietnam War.

U.S. deaths averaged 62 per month through the first half of the year. But since June 28, when U.S. officials restored Iraqi sovereignty and dissolved the U.S. civilian occupation authority, that average has jumped to about 78.

Deaths among National Guard and Reserve troops are rising, reaching a single-month peak of 27 in November. At least 17 were killed in December. Nearly 200 Guard and Reserve troops have died in the war.

Since the Marines regained control of Fallujah in November — by far the bloodiest month of the war for the Corps — the focus of insurgent violence has shifted to the northern city of Mosul.

A Dec. 21 attack on a military mess hall in Mosul killed 22, including 13 U.S. soldiers and a sailor — the deadliest single attack on a U.S. installation in the war.

4:52 PM  

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