WASHINGTON – After a postelection respite, the pace of insurgent attacks in Iraq has increased in recent weeks to approach last year's levels, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
"Where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago, and it's nowhere near the peak," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers (search), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon press conference.
That's about 400 attacks a week of all kinds: bombings, shootings, rocket and mortar attacks, Pentagon officials said. About half cause significant damage or injure or kill someone.
Though they vary daily, those figures are close to the rate of attacks that took place through much of last year, except for spasms of violence in Najaf (search), Fallujah (search) and elsewhere. In pre-election violence in January, the number spiked to twice the usual rate.
The frequency of attacks is one measure of the strength of the insurgency in Iraq, and the success of the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition to combat it.
But Myers and Defense SecretaryDonald H. Rumsfeld (search) disputed a suggestion that the figure demonstrates a lack of progress in Iraq. Rumsfeld said the focus of U.S. forces has been training Iraqi security forces rather than directing counterinsurgency operations.
"The United States and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency," he said. "The people that are going to defeat that insurgency are going to be the Iraqis. And the Iraqis will do it not through military means solely, but by progress on the political side and giving the Iraqi people a sense that they have a stake in that country."
Myers pointed to the creation of new government institutions. "I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time," he said. "If you look at where we are, we've had elections. They're about ready to form a government, albeit slower than perhaps some would have hoped, forming the Cabinet and so forth."
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said post-invasion attacks in Iraq were at lower levels — 150 to 200 per week — until April 2004, when uprisings occurred in Najaf and Anbar province. The first pictures of tortured prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison were also made public that month.
Afterward, the rate of attacks doubled, to around 400 or more per week, the official said. The number spiked during U.S. offensives in Najaf in August and Fallujah in November.
In January, as Iraq prepared to hold its elections, the numbers increased to as high as 825 attacks in one week, the official said. Afterward, the number dropped again to 400 per week in February and 350 in March, leading to some hopes that the insurgency — a mix of Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists — was finally ebbing because of the elections.
About 60 people — including Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners — are injured or killed daily in attacks, the defense official said. Except for the spikes, that rate has remained roughly consistent since April 2004, the official said.