Pentagon says Iraq strife has worsened

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and agencies

Financial Times

Published: September 2 2006

Three days after Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, declared that Iraq was heading along a difficult path to a “secure new future”, a Pentagon report presented to Congress said sectarian violence had worsened over the past three months, creating the most complex security challenge since the 2003 invasion.

The report, mandated by Congress each quarter, was likely to add to growing calls for Mr Rumsfeld to resign. It covered the period since the new government under Nouri al-Malaki took office, when the Bush administration raised expectations of progress in quelling the violence while insisting that civil war was not on the cards.

“Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,’’ the report said. The Sunni-led insurgency remained “potent and viable”, it said.

“Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,’’ the report said. “Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward a civil war can be prevented,” it added.

Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defence, told reporters that there had been progress in the economy and the number of trained Iraqi troops was up. But he said security conditions had deteriorated.

“Breaking the cycle of violence is the most pressing goal of coalition and Iraqi operations.”

The report was issued on a day on which news agencies reported the deaths of at least 47 people in bomb and rocket attacks.

The report said overall attacks rose 24 per cent to 792 per week and Iraqi casualties increased by 51 per cent to nearly 120 per day.

Democrats in Congress said the report showed that Mr Rumsfeld and the administration leadership were disconnected from reality.