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Pentagon Calls End of 2006 Most Violent Period in Iraq Since 2003


A quarterly report by the Pentagon says the last three months of last year were the most violent in Iraq since 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The report issued Wednesday says there were about 900 attacks per week during the last part of last year, and that while the majority of attacks targeted coalition forces, most of the casualties were among Iraqi civilians. The report says about 95 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded every week during that period, along with about 30 members of the Iraqi security forces and 20 coalition troops.

And the report indicates that violence was even higher during January and the first part of February, which are not officially part of the reporting period. The report says the number of attacks rose to more than one thousand per week early this year, and Iraqi civilian casualties rose to 99 per week.

The quarterly report says most of the violence continues to be concentrated in Baghdad and three nearby provinces, Diyala, al-Anbar and Salah al-Din.

The report notes that the new Baghdad Security Plan is just getting started, and it says controlling violence in the capital is particularly important because what happens there affects violence elsewhere and has a large impact on public perceptions. It calls Baghdad "Iraq's center of gravity."

In an interview with the Pentagon's television channel Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said getting control of the security situation in Iraq is his top priority.

"Trying to help develop a strategy that will put Iraq in a better place and on a path to where there is a country there that can defend itself and sustain itself and be an ally of ours in the war on terror is really important," said Robert Gates. "It's obvious there's a heated debate here in Washington, but I think everybody agrees that we can't leave Iraq in chaos and where everybody is just wrestling with how do you, how do you get to that place and I think that has to be my principle priority."

The quarterly Pentagon report, which is required by Congress, says some elements of the situation in Iraq could be described as part of a civil war. That is a new statement for the Pentagon. The report cites what it calls the "hardening" of sectarian divisions, the mobilization of sectarian forces and the displacement of large numbers of people. It says, "Illegally armed groups are engaged in a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian and politically motivated violence."

But the report also repeats what the previous quarterly report said: that the situation in Iraq is too complex to be described by the term 'civil war' alone. The previous report also said conditions existed in Iraq that could lead to civil war, but that characterizing the situation as a civil war was "not helpful" to the government's efforts at national reconciliation.

The Pentagon report says Iranian support for Shi'ite groups "intensifies" the conflict in Iraq. It says Iranian support includes "providing lethal weapons, training, financing and technical support" to the groups, including high-powered roadside bombs. But the report does not claim that senior Iranian officials are involved in the effort, as military briefers in Baghdad did last month.

The report also calls Syria "the primary foreign fighter gateway into Iraq." Secretary Gates told the Pentagon Channel several dozen foreign fighters flow into Iraq from Syria every month, and most of them are suicide bombers who target Iraqi civilians. The report also says Syria is "an important organizational and coordination hub for elements of the former Iraqi regime," and says Syria provides "safe haven, border transit and limited logistical support to some Iraqi insurgents."

Officials from both Syria and Iran attended a meeting in Baghdad on Saturday, designed to convince those governments to stop supporting violence in Iraq.

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