Death squad activity up over 70 percent in a month
Published: Monday May 14, 2007
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As the White House stood firm in its commitment to a troop surge in the Iraq war, statistics released this week show a key indicator of progress in Iraq trending in the wrong direction.

Insurgent death squads dumped 234 bodies around Baghdad in the first 11 days of May, a 70.8 percent increase from the 137 bodies dumped around the capital during the first 11 days of April, The Observer of London reported Sunday.

Addressing reporters Monday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said there was "concern" about the rise in death-squad activity, but he maintained "the longer-term trends ... still generally are down and considerably so."

Speaking before the release of the new statistics, a Pentagon spokesman in Baghdad downplayed the increase of violence. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad that there had been a "very slight uptick" in the number of "murders and executions" in Baghdad.

"It's been very minimal,"Caldwell said, according to a transcript of the May 9 briefing. "I mean, it's not been anything significant. ... And we're looking at that very closely, and obviously we're very concerned about it, too."

Excerpts from The Observer:


The new figures emerged as the commander of US forces in northern Iraq, Major General Benjamin Mixon, admitted he did not have enough soldiers to contain the escalating violence in Diyala province, which neighbours Baghdad and has become the focus of the heaviest fighting between largely Sunni insurgent groups and the US army, which has seen casualties increase by 300 per cent. Sixty-one US soldiers have been killed in Diyala this year, compared with 20 in all of last year.

Mixon, interviewed by The Observer earlier this year, has not made a secret of his frustration at the declining situation in Diyala and has already reinforced the area around Baqouba - the centre of the heaviest fighting - with additional troops.

Ironically, the violence in Diyala has been exacerbated by an influx of both Shia and Sunni fighters displaced from Baghdad by the surge and also from Anbar province who have relocated to Diyala to join a series of jihadi and nationalist groups already based there.

Mixon, who was speaking in Tikrit, said: 'I'm going to need additional forces, to get that situation to a more acceptable level, so the Iraqi security forces will be able in the future to handle that.' He was also highly critical of Iraqi government in Baghdad, charging that it was riddled with corruption.



(Editor's note: Article edited to correct the percentage which was originally miscalculated to be 41 percent)