Benchmarks: More civilians killed in Iraq

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Iraq's insurgents are succeeding in escalating the scale of casualties they are inflicting on the nation's civilians -- and they appear to be focusing on this goal in the short term even more than trying to inflict casualties on the nation's new security forces.

With the passing of the third anniversary of the start of U.S. and coalition operations to topple Saddam Hussein this March 19, the goal of restoring peace and stability to Iraq appears further off than ever. According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 116 Iraqi policemen and soldiers were killed by insurgent action in the 18 days from Feb. 23 through March 18, an average rate of 6.4 killed per day.


This was an almost 25 percent rise on the rate of just over five killed per day during the previous 16 day period from Feb. 7 through Feb. 22. And it continued a dramatically worsening trend. In the first six days of February only 21 of them were killed by insurgent action, an average rate of 3.3 killed per day.


Some 158 Iraqi troops and police were killed by insurgent action through the month of February. On the positive side, this was still the lowest figure for such casualties in a year, since February 2005. Nevertheless, the figures were very clearly on the rise through the second half of the month.

However, the number of Iraq civilians killed per month has been rising steadily again through January and February after dipping to much lower levels during the October through December period. Some 511 were killed and 894 injured by insurgent action through February, the Iraq Index Project said. These were markedly higher figures than the 418 killed and 732 injured in January that it had previously documented.

"It is still unclear how many civilians were killed in the outburst of sectarian violence directly related to the destruction of the Askariya mosque in Samarra in Feb. 22, 2006," the IIP said in a report issued Monday. "Estimates range from 220 (the number of confirmed deaths according to the U.S. military on March 1) to 1,300 (early estimates according to morgue workers)," it said.

The Iraq Index project estimates the number of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of acts of war since May 1, 2003, through March 7, 2006, as 20,954. However, it cautioned that this figure did not include Iraqi civilians killed during the major combat operations involved in the conquest of Iraq from March 19, 2003 through April 30, 2003, or the 203 to 350 civilians killed during combat operations from July 1 through July 14, 2005.


As of March 14, the Iraq Body Count Web site estimated the total number of Iraqi civilian dead since the start of combat operations in 2003 as between 33,638 and 37,754.

The insurgents have been able to intensify and increase the number of their multiple bomb fatality, or MFB, attacks on Iraqi civilians. There were 21 such attacks in the first 12 days of March, an average of 1.75 per day. If that rate is maintained through the rest of the month, March will see the highest number of MFB attacks in a single month so far in the entire insurgency.

These attacks through March 12 killed 148 Iraqis and wounded another 391. In February, they killed 557 people and wounded another 242. The MFB fatalities in February were the worst for any month since September and they were the fourth worst for any month in the entire insurgency.

The rate of MFB attacks was slightly up from the 1.4. per day they hovered at through the first three weeks of February and even those figures were more than four times the rate of such attacks during the Jan. 9 to Jan. 16 period.

The number of MFB attacks for the entire month of February also confirmed the pessimistic projection we made in this column on Feb. 10 that the total for the month could reach 37. In fact there 39 such attacks, almost 25 percent more than the 30 such attacks the insurgents carried out in January and almost twice as many as the 21 such attacks recorded in December.


Judged from this overall pattern, the figure of "only" 21 MFB attacks carried out in December was an anomalously low figure, almost certainly attributable to the relative restraint that the insurgents exercised during the run up to and immediate aftermath of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections in Iraq. However, it is clear that even before the explosion of civic strife across Iraq last month after the Golden Mosque bombing, the elections and their results had failed to have any impact whatsoever on the number of insurgent attacks against Iraqi civilians.

The number of casualties, especially fatalities, from MFB attacks has now been remorselessly rising for two and half months. Through January, 305 people were killed in MFB attacks and another 397 wounded. In December, MFB attacks killed 155 people and wounded 174.

According to the Iraq Index Project figures up to March 12, 5,727 people have been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 11,452 wounded. However, MFB statistics do not include killed and injured in bombings where less than three people were killed.

The overall picture from these figures and trends appears clear: The insurgency is on the upswing again -- and it is targeting its most defenseless victims.


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