More than 30 bombs in 30 days

The Iraq insurgency is outpacing the coalition's attempts to restore peace.

By Rory McCarthy

Published September 30, 2004 1:37PM (EDT)

The insurgency in Iraq appears to be more widespread and deadly than Iraqi leaders are prepared to admit, according to military officers and a report by a private security company, Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group. The company says there have been been 2,300 attacks in the past 30 days, stretching from Mosul in the north through the Sunni heartland west of Baghdad and central Shiie towns around Babylon down to Basra in the south. The weapons ranged from car and time bombs to rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, gunfire, mortars and land mines. They averaged 80 a day.

Under pressure to rein in the insurgency before the elections in January, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan said Wednesday that all the rebel cities would be subjugated next month, presaging some form of offensive.

At present the interim government and the occupying powers are under attack. In Baghdad alone there have been 1,000 attacks this month.

An American officer said earlier this week that 3,000 mortar shells had been fired in the capital since the uprisings began in April. Most were aimed at the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound that houses the Iraqi government and the U.S. and British embassies.

Although Ayad Allawi, the prime minister, gave an optimistic picture to the U.S. Congress last week, saying his government was on top of the insurgency and preparing for January's elections, others have painted a darker picture of the security situation. Allawi said 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces were safe enough to hold elections and spoke only of "pockets of terrorists."

The number of daily attacks has risen and fallen over the past year. It peaked in April at about 120 a day, when Sunni and Shiite gunmen led uprisings throughout the country. Earlier this month there were about 90 attacks a day, but last week the number had dropped to 50, a senior U.S. officer said.

The insurgents have refined their attacks, focusing on suicide car bombs. September has been a record month, with about 35 bombs in 30 days. For the first time several of those car bombs were aimed at moving targets, often U.S. military or Iraqi police convoys, rather than the usual fixed targets -- the entrances to U.S. bases, the Green Zone and the police stations and recruiting bases. In the latest attack, on Tuesday night, six American soldiers were injured when a car bomb exploded near their convoy in Mosul.

But the picture is mixed. A British army major, Charlie Mayo, said there had been a fall in the amount of violence in the southeastern provinces around Basra since August. Although two British soldiers were killed in an ambush on Tuesday, there had been some days with no incidents at all in the southeast. "There has been a very marked drop since August," he said. "The situation here is very different from the rest of Iraq."

U.S. officers are struggling to put a number on the size of the insurgent forces they are fighting. Some have suggested up to 20,000, others more. "In terms of a core there are a few hundred," a senior officer said, declining to be named. But he said there could be many more involved who were loosely affiliated with insurgent groups.

He said insurgents were finding recruits among the mass of young, unemployed and frustrated Iraqi men. "Because a lot of Iraqis are unemployed and disaffected, a lot of folk look at them as potential supporters," he said. "That is why in this environment the military option cannot be the only option. "There has to be a campaign that is military, economic and diplomatic brought to the table."

The U.S. military authorities believe that Fallujah, 32 miles west of Baghdad, is the stronghold of foreign fighters like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose group holds Briton Ken Bigley hostage. But his fighters have emerged in other cities, including an area of Baghdad known as Haifa Street, which is just a few minutes from the Green Zone.

Last week Allawi boasted of a new peace in Samarra, another town in the troubled Sunni heartland. But on Tuesday dozens of gunmen from Zarqawi's group were seen parading through the street, forcing motorists to exchange music tapes for cassettes of Koranic readings. Some reports have suggested that Zarqawi's militant group has grown to number at least 1,500.

Rory McCarthy

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