Iraq ‘less safe’ than a year ago, US inspector says
Report comes amid uncertainty over withdrawal
BAGHDAD - The security situation in Iraq is more dangerous than it was a year ago, according to a government watchdog report issued yesterday that cites more attacks on US troops, a continuing wave of assassinations targeting Iraqi officials, and a growing number of indirect rocket strikes on Baghdad’s Green Zone.
“Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,’’ Stuart Bowen, the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, wrote in his quarterly report to Congress and the Obama administration. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.’’
The findings contrast with public statements by US diplomatic and military officials in Iraq and come as Washington awaits a final decision by Iraqi leaders on whether they want US troops to stay in the country beyond the expiration of a three-year security agreement in December.
US officials have said they are willing to extend the American military presence into 2012 only after receiving a formal request from Iraqi leaders.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq and other top leaders postponed a meeting scheduled for yesterday to debate any future US military presence, once again dashing hopes of quickly resolving the issue.
Maliki instead was scheduled to appear before the Iraqi Parliament to defend plans to cut the 46-member Cabinet down to 30 members - another long-simmering political dispute that appears far from resolution.
With about 46,000 US troops still in Iraq, US military officials are urging Maliki and his colleagues to reach a final decision before tens of thousands of troops begin departing this fall.
Maliki has said any decision must be put to the Iraqi Parliament, but some lawmakers, eager to avoid voting on the issue, are pushing the Iraqi interior and defense ministries to sign new military training agreements with the Pentagon. US officials have said that any agreement to extend the military presence should include guarantees of legal immunity for US forces.
Bowen’s report noted that 14 US troops were killed by hostile fire in Iraq in June, the bloodiest month since April 2009. Most of the attacks are linked to Shi’ite militias.
Five US troops have died in July, according to military figures.
Yesterday, a patrol of US and Iraqi forces came under fire in a village north of Baghdad, and three people were killed. Clashes between the security forces and villagers broke out while soldiers were conducting a raid outside Balad, 50 miles north of the capital, said Ali Abdul-Rahman, a spokesman for the Salahuddin provincial governor.
Also yesterday, Maliki said he was reviving a stalled deal to buy multimillion-dollar fighter jets from the United States and affirmed the need for American trainers to help Iraqi forces operate and maintain the 36 F-16s.
However, Maliki avoided saying whether the trainers would be active-duty troops or private contractors, sidestepping the key question of whether American military personnel will be asked to remain past the end of the year.
Iraq’s insurgent groups may also be connected to increased rocket attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the US Embassy and other foreign outposts, US military bases, and several Iraqi government ministries, Bowen said.
At least 248 Iraqi civilians and 193 members of Iraqi security forces were killed between April and mid-June, the report said. More than 100 died in mass-casualty suicide attacks.
Bowen said intelligence estimates suggest that as many as 1,000 Al Qaeda-affiliated militants remain in Iraq. Several Iraqi government officials have been assassinated in the past three months, including judges, senior generals, and civil servants.