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Insurgents back to business in Iraq

By
MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- The week after the historic parliamentary elections of Dec. 15 saw business as usual in the Iraq insurgency. The rates at which U.S. troops were killed and wounded and Iraqi security forces killed all dropped slightly, but there were worrying indications at the end of the period that the insurgents might be gearing up for a new attempted sustained wave of attacks after a period of self-imposed relative restraint.

A wave of attacks on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25, that killed 21 people across Iraq grimly testified to the insurgents' continued lethal capabilities.

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The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq through Monday, Dec. 26 since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,170 according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of 12 in seven days. This continued the small but real improvement in recent weeks compared with 14 killed in the previous seven day period at a rate of two a day, and on the rate of 2.1 per week at which they were being killed during the eight day period before that.

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The rate of deaths during the Dec. 20-26 period was also significantly below the 2.4 killed per day in mid-November, a figure that had previously been heralded as a sign of improvement. In late October the casualty rate was more than three times higher; troops were being killed at a rate of six per day.

However, the rate at which U.S. troops were being injured in Iraq very seriously rose during the week of the elections. The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Dec. 26, was 16,155, the Pentagon said.

Some 7,103 of those troops were wounded so seriously that they were listed as "WIA Not RTD" by the DOD. In other words: Wounded in Action Not Returned to Duty. This meant that their injuries were so severe that in many, if not most, cases they will be crippled or mentally impaired for the rest of their lives or suffer long-term health problems from their wounds. Some 35 U.S. troops suffered this kind of injury during the Dec. 20-26 period, an average of five per day.

During the last week, 94 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq in seven days, an average of just below 13.5 per day. This was a significant improvement on the 15.14 per day injured during the previous seven-day period. But it remained dramatically higher than the 74 wounded during the eight-day period before that, an average of 9.25 per day.

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In other words, the rate at which the insurgents were able to inflict injuries on U.S. forces in the week after the Iraqi parliamentary elections was still almost 30 percent higher than in the eight-day period before the election week. And it remained significantly worse than the average rate of 11 U.S. troops wounded per day at the beginning of December. Still, it was only half as bad as the figure of 30 injured per day in the first half of October.

The insurgents also showed an ability to maintain and even increase their rate of casualties inflicted upon the Iraqi security forces during and after the elections.

According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 71 Iraqi police and troops were killed in the 12-day period from Dec. 15 through Dec. 26, an average of just under six per day.

This was a significantly higher rate than the 44 Iraqi police and troops killed in the nine-day period from Dec. 5 through Dec. 14, an average of just below five per day. These attacks peaked in a new wave over the past weekend -- a development that suggests the insurgents had been relatively restrained through the election period but that they may now be gearing up for a new wave of violence.

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The total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003, to Dec. 26, 2005, was 3,835, according to the Iraq Index Project figures. Eighty-eight members of Iraq's military and police were killed in the first 14 days of December, and average of below 6.5 per day.

Still, up to Dec. 26, the total number of Iraqi police and troops killed by the insurgents during the month of December was 159, a figure that, if maintained through the last five days of the month, could mark the lowest this figure has been since February.

Despite the high incidence of car and truck bombs -- grimly referred to as multiple fatality bombings, or MFBs -- reported in November, the current figures for December are positive.

Up to Dec. 26, 12 of these attacks were recorded in December, killing 118 people and wounding 155. If this rate continues, December will see the lowest death figures for MFBs since March and the lowest injured figures from them since November 2004, 13 months ago. It must, however, be cautioned that these figures included the self-imposed lull on many forms of violent activity by the insurgents in the run up to the elections and in the period immediately after them. And it remains to be seen if that improvement will prove to be lasting, or just a temporary lull.

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According to the Iraq Index Project figures, up to Dec. 26 4,997 people have been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 10,088 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 remains very rough and approximate. The estimates are rounded off at 3,000 per month for the four months of August, September, October and November.

There is good reason to look at the accuracy of these estimates. If correct, they would mean that the insurgency lost 12,000 troops in only four 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.

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