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Attacks Spike in Iraq, U.S. General Says

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. An unusually candid assessment today of the Iraqi insurgency from an American general. In his weekly roundup of events for reporters, Major General Rick Lynch said assaults by insurgents are on the rise. Attacks are up against Iraqi troops and civilians. They're up in the capital of Baghdad, in the lawless Al Anbar province, and they're up on a daily and a weekly basis. NPR's John Hendren reports from Baghdad.

JOHN HENDREN: This is a sound it is nearly impossible to avoid for long on any day in central Baghdad. Today, it could be in response to the gunmen who killed three street cleaners and wounded two more. Or it could be the car bomb in the Shiite neighborhood of Shula that wounded a dozen bystanders. But General Lynch says this week more than last, and, on average, more than in recent months, U.S. and Iraqi security troops are responding more often.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

RICK LYNCH: There were 67 attacks yesterday. There were 545 attacks within the last week. And that attack trend is indeed up. That's 17 percent more attacks than we experienced the week before. And the most significant increase was in Al Anbar province, and there was a 57 percent increase in the number of attacks that week compared to the week prior.

HENDREN: That rebellious western province includes the storied insurgent battlegrounds of Fallujah and Ramadi, where the governor's brother was gunned down today. It is the westernmost of the four central Iraqi provinces where 85 percent of Iraq's attacks occur. Many of Iraq's 14 remaining provinces are comparatively safe, according to U.S. officials, enduring only one or two attacks a week. American and Iraqi officials say they've cut into the insurgency with successful operations, like the one in Diala province, where an Iraqi battalion last week killed two suspected insurgents and captured 102 more, including 25 on Iraq's most wanted list. But the attacks continue to rise. And they're not just becoming more numerous. They're becoming more deadly.

LYNCH: The enemy also has successful operations. I talked about 545 attacks last week. Of those, 131 attacks were successful, were effective, in that they resulted in a casualty. Either a coalition casualty, Iraqi security force casualty, or innocent Iraqi civilian.

HENDREN: Attacks on American forces have dropped, officials say, as Iraqi soldiers and police increasingly take the lead in raids and other security operations. Last week, Iraqis led in nearly one out of three. That also makes them an increasing target. The police in particular spend much of their time responding to distress calls from their own colleagues. Over the past few months, attacks on Iraqi security forces have jumped 30 percent. Today, attacks on police in the Baghdad area alone included two roadside bombs and two car bombs that killed one person and wounded eleven, and those are just the ones the Ministry of Interior says were reported by the end of the day. Attacks on civilians are up 30 percent. U.S. military officials say that's because, as U.S. forces increase their own defenses, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, has set his sights on softer targets.

LYNCH: So we're seeing the insurgent move his targets away from the coalition forces to the Iraqi security forces, and Zarqawi's side group is specifically on Iraqi civilians. Innocent men, women and children of Iraq.

HENDREN: U.S. military officials say the recent rise in attacks is part of an insurgent plan to derail the new government following the December elections. It is likely to continue, they say, until the government is seated, and that could take months.

John Hendren, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Hendren
John Hendren began covering the Pentagon for NPR in November 2005. His reports can be heard throughout NPR News programming and newscasts.