Iraq's violence heading toward two-year high
Seventy-two US soldiers have been killed so far in October.
CAIRO AND BAGHDAD
Insurgents have used the Muslim holy month Ramadan, when dawn-to-dusk fasting marks the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad, to incite one of the most violent months since the start of the Iraq war.Skip to next paragraph
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Thursday, a US military spokesman in Baghdad said attacks on its soldiers are up 22 percent this month, which he described as "disheartening." Ramadan ends early next week, but the US military says it does not appear to be a temporary uptick. If it continues, say analysts, it will challenge the viability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and cast a long shadow over the US midterm elections in November.
October is already the 10th deadliest month of the war for US forces, with 11 days to go. It is on track to be the worst month for the coalition in two years.
While Muslims traditionally believe Ramadan is a time for good actions – such as feeding the poor – that general belief reflected through the lens of jihad groups like Al Qaeda, who believe God approves of their murders, inspires them to step up attacks.
The scope of Iraqi casualties during the holy month is less clear, although suicide attacks and death-squad activity does appears much higher than in preceding months. Early this week, sectarian fighting left 100 dead in Balad, 60 miles north of Baghdad. In the northern city of Mosul Thursday, six suicide bombs killed 20 Iraqis.
In Baghdad, Iraqi deaths often result from sectarian rivalries. Walking home to break his fast Wednesday evening, a resident of Baghdad's Amal neighborhood watched as two men in masks and police uniforms hopped from a car and gunned down two shopkeepers. "Why,'' he asks? "We don't ask and they don't tell."
Reporting by the US Defense Department, cited by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, showed a ninefold increase in violent sectarian incidents and a fourfold increase in Iraqi casualties between last year's Ramadan and the end of July.
Since July, anecdotal reporting shows a mounting death toll. The Iraq Coalition Casualty website, which relies on press reports for the Iraqi death toll, shows August and September to be the two deadliest months of the war for Iraqis, with a minimum of 6,500 killed. October appears to be headed for another record.
Mr. Cordesman, the former director of intelligence assessment for the US Defense Secretary, writes in an Oct. 19 report that, "Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war, and current efforts at political compromise and improving security at best are buying time. There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months, see its present government fail, and/or divide or separate in some form."
As the death toll rises, comparisons to the Vietnam War are appearing again. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote this week that violence in Iraq poses "the Jihadist equivalent of the Tet Offensive,'' referring to the massive North Vietnamese and Viet Cong assault that began in January 1968 and ended with few strategic gains for the North. It badly shook American confidence of ultimate victory in Vietnam, and led then-President Lyndon Johnson to abandon his reelection bid.