Baghdad: Frequent bombings, assassinations and a resurgence in violence by Shi’ite militias have made Iraq more dangerous now than it was just a year ago, a US government watchdog concludes in a report released on Saturday.
The findings come during what US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W Bowen Jr called "a summer of uncertainty" in Baghdad over whether American forces will stay past a year-end withdrawal deadline and continue military aid for the unstable nation.
"Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work," Bowen concluded in his 172-page quarterly report to Congress and the Obama administration on progress — and setbacks — in Iraq. "It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago."
The report cited the deaths of 15 US soldiers in June, the bloodiest month for the US military in Iraq in two years. Nearly all of them were killed in attacks by Shi’ite militias bent on forcing out American troops on schedule.
It also noted an increase in rockets launched against the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, where government offices and foreign embassies are located, as well as constant assassination attempts against Iraqi political leaders, security forces and judges.
Additionally, the report called the northeastern province of Diyala, which borders Iran and has an often volatile mix of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and Kurds among its residents, "very unstable" with frequent bombings that bring double-digit death tolls.
Bowen accused the US military of glossing over Iraq`s instability, noting a statement in late May by the US military that described Iraq`s security trends as "very, very positive”. In contrast, Bowen talked of "the very real fragility" of national security in Iraq and compared the current situation to the days of 2007, when the country was on the brink of civil war.
A spokesman for the US military in Iraq declined to respond.
If the US military leaves on schedule, the American embassy in Baghdad will pick up the responsibility of training Iraqi police. Bowen called the job "challenging" for the fewer than 200 advisers who would be based in three sites but tasked with supporting Iraqi police in 10 of Iraq`s 18 provinces. There are an estimated 400,000 policemen in Iraq.
Baghdad and Washington are negotiating whether to keep the US military in Iraq beyond the December deadline. A Saturday discussion about the Obama administration`s offer to keep 10,000 troops in Iraq to continue training security forces has been postponed, despite earlier hopes by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the meeting could yield an agreement.
Al-Maliki says the decision ultimately will be put to Parliament. While many officials from both nations believe Iraq is still too unstable to protect itself without US help, keeping a large presence of American troops may be difficult to sell to an Iraqi public tired of eight years of war.
Bowen also said his inspectors published six audits over the last three months, including reviews of US government contractor Anham, LLC, which is based in suburban Washington. The review found that Anham allowed its subcontractors in Iraq to overcharge the US government, including a USD 900 bill for a control switch that cost USD 7.05 and USD 3,000 for a circuit breaker worth USD 183.30.
As a result, Bowen`s inspectors are seeking to review all Anham contracts with the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan, which total about USD 3.9 billion.