High Iraq deaths cast doubt on US stability talk

The Americans are anxious to show evidence of progress in Iraq.

Baghdad: While concern is rising in the US about the war in Afghanistan, the Americans are anxious to show evidence of progress in their other conflict — Iraq.

New Iraqi government figures tell a different story, however, showing civilian casualties hitting their highest level in more than two years — figures the US rushed on Sunday to dispute.

The rejection of the figures, compiled by the Iraqi Ministries of Defence, Interior and Health, comes at a delicate time. The American military has pronounced Iraq`s security as stabilising and is going ahead with plans to send home all but 50,000 troops by the end of the month, leaving Iraq`s nascent security forces in control. The last American soldier is due to leave by the end of 2011.

Things were not much better in July for the Americans in Afghanistan — where US losses were the highest for any month of the war. The monthly death toll — 66 — surpassed the previous record of 60 deaths in June. US commanders have warned of more bloodshed as fighting escalates in longtime Taliban strongholds.

Moreover, at least 270 Afghan civilians were killed in the July fighting and nearly 600 wounded — a 29 percent increase over the previous month, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

In Iraq, the July death toll — 535 — was the highest since May 2008 when 563 died, heightening concerns over the country`s precarious security even as a political deadlock persists nearly five months after a Parliamentary Election produced no clear winner.

The new figures suggested that a resilient insurgency is successfully taking advantage of the political deadlock and shows the difficulties of achieving a political solution in a polarised society like Iraq`s, where ethnic and religious groups compete for power regardless of where national interests lie.

More than seven years after Saddam Hussein`s ouster, Iraqi politicians from these rival groups have failed to resolve key issues like sharing wealth, the extent of provincial autonomy and identity.

The US military countered that its own data showed only 222 Iraqis had been killed in July. "We do our very best to be vigilant to ensure the numbers we report are as accurate as can be," spokesman Lt Col Bob Owen said in defence of the military`s own numbers.

A report says that at least 350 Iraqis were killed in July, but this figure is considered a minimum. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted.

Bureau Report