Iraq Security Forces Under Scrutiny As Violence Rises

April 4, 2011

Mike Shuster

Violence in Iraq rose dramatically in March — with violent deaths more than double the level in February, according to statistics provided by sources including Iraq's Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health and the Baghdad morgue.

In March, 79 civilians and 31 security personnel were killed in Baghdad alone, more than twice the numbers for February, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

Across Iraq, 136 civilians died in attacks, and 111 Iraqi police and soldiers were also killed. That compares with 48 security personnel killed in February.

Although these figures show a one-month rise, they are still far below the level of violence Iraq saw during the worst of the sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007. But this may suggest why the violence is growing, says Abbas al-Bayati, a member of Parliament from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition.

"The reason is laxness on the part of the security forces. Perhaps they felt too confident that security is stable, so when their forces were conducting searches, they weren't being properly vigilant," al-Bayati says. "Such attacks attract media attention. They don't show the strength of the terrorists, but they do show us gaps in the work of the security forces."

IED Attacks, Shootings On The Rise

Most of those killed were the victims of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The number of these bombs that exploded in Baghdad doubled from 62 in February to 124 in March, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

Shootings are also on the rise. Usually these are drive-by shootings at checkpoints or gathering spots for police or soldiers. Gunmen have also taken to using silencers in many of these attacks.

Many in Iraq speculate that the insurgents see an opportunity with the withdrawal of most of the U.S. troops from Iraq.

Others believe the weakness of Maliki's government has given the insurgents opportunities. That's the view of Iskandar Witwit, a member of the defense and security committee of the Iraqi Parliament.

"They are trying to hinder the democratic process in Iraq," he says. "They're not just targeting the army and police. They're also targeting specialized qualified people, like doctors or professors. This is a very dangerous aim that the security forces should be aware of so we know who's behind this."

Questions About Tactics

The figures for March include the grisly massacre last week in a local government building in Tikrit, about 80 miles north of Baghdad. Tikrit was the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and has been a hotbed of insurgent activity.

A small squad of insurgents attacked the provincial council building with a car bomb, grenades, suicide bomb belts and automatic rifles. The siege lasted from lunchtime to the early evening, and in the end 57 people died.

Witwit questioned the readiness and tactics of the security forces in that and other similar attacks.

"Our battle with terrorism is about intelligence," he says. "It is not a battle of weapons facing other weapons. If you have better intelligence you can control the terrorists. They have accurate information since they track us. We do not know them but they know us."

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the Tikrit attack, demonstrating once again that it and other insurgent groups still have a limited but highly lethal capability. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.