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New Year week of blasts in Baghdad

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   Jan. 10, 2006 at 12:42 PM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The New Year started not merely with a bang in Iraq but with lots of them: A wave of renewed insurgent terror bombings drove civilian casualties sky high while increased fatalities were inflicted on U.S. combat forces.

The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq through Monday, Jan. 10 since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,209 according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of 28 in only seven days, and an average of 4 U.S. soldiers killed per day during that time period. That was a kill rate three times worse than the 11 killed during the previous eight-day period, an average rate of 1.375 U.S. military fatalities per day.

This grim week torpedoed the previous growing confidence of senior Bush administration officials that new combat tactics in Iraq were reducing U.S. casualties and proving more effective.

During the same seven-day period, 91 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq, an average rate of 13 per day. The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Jan. 10, was 16,420, the Pentagon said.

Some 7,608 of those troops were wounded so seriously that they were listed as "WIA Not RTD" in the DOD figures. In other words: Wounded in Action Not Returned to Duty, an increase of 26 such casualties in seven days. In all an estimated 2,000 of the U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq, or one in eight of them, have suffered brain damage, loss of limbs or been crippled for life by their injuries.

Despite the seriousness of U.S. casualties and especially the dramatic rise in military fatalities from hostile action over the past week, the rate at which U.S. solders were being wounded was actually down from the previous eight-day period according to the DOD figures. During the eight days from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3, 174 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq, an average of just below 22 per day.

While the insurgents showed their ability to inflict renewed casualties on U.S. military forces and Iraqi civilians alike with unabated and undiluted ferocity, they appeared to be taking a relative break from their regular high rates of attrition on Iraq security forces.

According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 25 Iraqi police and troops were killed in the six-day period from Jan. 3 through Jan. 8, an average of 4.17 per day. This was a more than 50 percent improvement on the 65 Iraqi police and troops killed in the previous seven-day period from Dec. 27 through Jan. 2, an average of just below 9.3 per day.

The total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003, to Jan. 8, 2005, was 3,915, according to the Iraq Index Project figures. Some 193 members of Iraq's military and police were killed through December, compared with only 176 the previous month. Some 46 Iraqi police and soldiers were killed during the first eight days of January.

Bad as it was, this rate, if maintained, would continue the drop in casualties per month inflicted on Iraqi security forces monitored through December, which was the first month since July when the number of Iraqi security forces killed by the insurgents was rising again.

However, it must again be noted that this apparent improvement came during a week when the insurgents were inflicting massive casualties on Iraqi civilians and renewed high levels of fatal casualties on U.S. forces.

The figures for multiple fatality bombings, or MFBs were grimmer than ever during the first eight days of the New Year. Some 14 of these attacks were recorded, compared with only 21 for the entire month of December. And the casualties inflicted in the January attacks were far worse than in the December ones: In only the first eight days of January, 225 people were killed in these attacks and another 308 wounded.

These figures were far worse than for the entire month of December, a period almost four times longer. Through the 31 days of December, MFB attacks killed 155 people and wounded 174. Therefore, while December had the lowest death figures for MFBs since August and the second lowest since March and the lowest injured figures from them since November 2004, 13 months ago, the past week's figures alone reversed that trend.

According to the Iraq Index Project figures up to Jan. 8, 5,257 people have been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 10,415 wounded. However, MFB statistics do not include killed and injured in bombings where less than three people were killed.

The project also notes that the U.S. estimate of the number of insurgency combatants killed or captured remains very rough and approximate. The estimates are rounded off at 3,000 per month for the five months of August, September, October, November and December.

There is good reason to question the accuracy of these estimates. If correct, they would mean that the insurgency lost 15,000 troops in only five months when other U.S. military estimates have calculated that there are never more than 20,000 insurgents active at any one time.

Those figures, therefore, would -- if true -- mean that the insurgency had lost 60 percent of its active manpower in only four months, a rate of attrition that has only been seen historically in the closing stages of counter-insurgency operations when the guerrilla movement is literally disintegrated and rapidly losing its ability to inflict casualties. There has so far been no sign of that process so far in Iraq and almost no respected U.S. military analyst believes it is happening. The 3,000 per month figure therefore appears to be little more than guesswork.

Meanwhile, a new study by two academic experts suggests the costs of the Iraq war will be much higher than previously reckoned.

In a paper presented to last week's Allied Social Sciences Association annual meeting in Boston, Mass., Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes and Columbia University professor and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz calculated that the war is likely to cost the United States a minimum of nearly $1 trillion and potentially over $2 trillion.

"Shortly before the war, when administration economist Larry Lindsey suggested that the costs might range between $100 billion and $200 billion, administration spokesmen quickly distanced themselves from those numbers," Stiglitz said. "But in retrospect, it appears that Lindsey's numbers represented a gross underestimate of the actual costs."

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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