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Pentagon cautiously cites improved security in Iraq

Times Staff Writers

Security in Iraq has improved consistently and dramatically in nearly every major category over the last three months, the most sustained period of such gains in nearly two years, according to the first Pentagon report to attempt to quantify recent progress in detail.

However, the report also makes it clear that progress could easily be lost unless improvements are made quickly in Iraq’s economy and its unreliable central government, and it illustrates how dependent the advances are on restraint by still-active militant groups.

In addition, Iraq’s domestic security forces remain a source of concern, with their ability to secure their own country constrained by deficiencies in logistics and a shortage in command officer ranks that “will take years” to rebuild, the report says.

The report, issued Tuesday, is one of a series of quarterly reports to Congress that the Pentagon has been required to submit for two years. In the past, the evaluations have painted grim pictures of a slide into chaos.

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Even the previous two reports, compiled in the midst of the Bush administration’s troop buildup, described Iraq as consumed by violence, with attacks decreasing in some areas flooded by newly arriving forces only to increase in other regions.

The new study is the first to report broad reductions in violence in multiple categories, reflecting declines in civilian deaths, attacks on U.S. forces and suicide bombings.

“Improved security is beginning to achieve momentum that, if maintained, may lead to significant stability,” the report says.

Dramatic gains continued to occur in the western province of Anbar, once the most violent part of Iraq, which now accounts for less than 6% of all attacks.

Baghdad, which has replaced Anbar as Iraq’s most violent province, experienced more than 25 attacks per day in the three months that ended in November. But that was down 53% from the summer, the report says.

The provinces just north of Baghdad and Anbar have shown the least progress, as Sunni Arab insurgents move their bases north. In Nineveh province and its capital, Mosul, violence remained above 2006 levels.

The report argues that the gains are not irreversible, and it casts a pessimistic light on the ability of the central government to meet many of the legislative goals set by U.S. officials. The report calls the lack of progress disappointing and says failures are hindering reconciliation between warring sects within Iraq.

“Although security gains . . . have had a substantial effect, more needs to be done to foster national ‘top-down’ reconciliation to sustain these gains,” the report says.

Equally troubling, the report raises new doubts about the Iraqi security forces, saying the government’s efforts to rapidly expand the size of the army and police are taxing the abilities of Iraqis and Americans to train new recruits. The number of Iraqi units leading military operations is increasing only slowly.

“The aggressive growth of police forces to meet present challenges . . . requires a mature, integrated recruiting, screening, training, equipping and basing system that does not fully exist,” the report says.

The report indicates U.S. officials worry about their ability to train Iraqi army and police recruits. The U.S. keeps track of how many Iraqis have gone through its training, but doesn’t know how many remain on duty.

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

julian.barnes@latimes.com


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