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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Iraq engulfed by tide of violence
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

Man allegedly tortured by Iraqi police in Baghdad
Torture is at appalling levels in Iraq

Manfred Nowak, the UN's chief anti-torture expert, captured the headlines round the world when he suggested that torture could be worse in Iraq now than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Torture is indeed at appalling levels in Iraq. Everyone, it seems, from the Iraqi forces to the militias to the anti-US insurgents, now routinely use torture on the people they kill.

Each day, bodies are found with appalling injuries, particularly in Baghdad.

At the Baghdad mortuary, I was told that more bodies now showed signs of torture than of a clean death.

But new figures show that the picture is worse in other ways.

The number of violent deaths for July and August reached a total of 6,600 - 13% higher than the figure for the previous two-month figure.

'Too late'

They come at a time when 147,000 American soldiers are deployed in Iraq, the majority of them in the area around Baghdad. In recent months, reinforcements have been brought in to try to curb the violence.

The figures seem to indicate clearly that the US forces simply do not have the answer to the basic problem. The same applies to the British forces in Basra and the south, where the situation is also deteriorating.

US military vehicle on the outskirts of Falluja, 2004
The rise in hostility to the US forces is clearly linked to the onslaught against the town of Falluja in 2004
John Simpson

Some 147,000 soldiers may seem a large number, and it is more than the US Department of Defense had been hoping to deploy in Iraq by now.

But the overwhelming majority of them are not out on the streets, stopping the bombings and kidnappings and murders.

The total number of fighting soldiers in the American force is probably about 18,000 - quite a small number, given the area they have to cover and the size of the problem.

Even so, more troops does not seem to be the solution. It is probably too late now to introduce different tactics, but in policing hostile towns and cities there is no effective alternative to the foot patrol.

A well-trained platoon can control quite a large area, making it hard for their opponents to gather together and carry out attacks. Of course, armoured vehicles can cover more ground, but as soon as they have passed, the insurgents can come out of hiding again.

The Americans have never put enough foot patrols in the streets, and they long ago lost control of many towns and cities as a result.

Rise in hostility

The US Department of Defense has now provided another measure of the problem it faces. Its latest opinion poll carried out in Iraq indicates that, among the five million Sunni Muslims there, about 75% now support the armed insurgency against the coalition.

This compares with 14% in the first opinion poll the Defense Department carried out back in 2003. It is a catastrophic loss of support, and there is no sign whatever that it can be effectively reversed.

US soldiers on patrol in Iraq
There are about 147,000 US soldiers deployed in Iraq

The rise in hostility to the US forces is clearly linked to the onslaught against the town of Falluja in 2004.

This, we are told, was ordered directly by the White House and the Department of Defense after the bodies of four American defence contractors were hung from a bridge in April 2004.

The ferocity of the attack by the US marines persuaded large numbers of Iraqi Sunnis that the Americans were their enemies.

The situation in the country as a whole has never seriously improved since then, and Falluja itself has still not been entirely subdued.

Last year, President George W Bush said he would accept nothing less than complete victory in Iraq. For many months, as the situation there deteriorated even further, he went quiet about his promise.

But earlier this month, before the fifth anniversary of the attack on the twin towers, he repeated it.

That presumably had more to do with American politics than with the situation in Iraq.

But the latest crop of figures indicate that complete victory for the US, whatever that might mean, is now out of the question.




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