Iraq less safe than a year ago: US watchdog


Iraq is a less safe place than it was one year ago and security is continuing to deteriorate, an American watchdog warned on Saturday, just months ahead of a US withdrawal from the country.
The assessment by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) contrasts markedly from the view often voiced by senior US army officers who argue that levels of violence are significantly lower than in 2006 and 2007, when Iraq was in the throes of a sectarian bloodbath.
He also noted that efforts by Washington to hand over responsibility for training Baghdad’s fledgling police force to the American embassy from the military would prove “challenging.”
“Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Stuart Bowen said in the report published on Saturday. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”
He added that the transition of responsibility for reconstruction from the US military to the embassy was occurring “against the backdrop of a security situation in Iraq that continues to deteriorate.”
Bowen noted in his report that June was the deadliest month for US military personnel since April 2009, and that the April to July period saw the highest number of assassinations of senior Iraqi officials since SIGIR began tracking such figures.
He warned that while joint efforts by the US and Iraq had lowered the threat posed by insurgent groups, “foreign militias have become cause for concern,” and added that the past quarter “also saw an increase in the number of rockets hitting the International Zone and the US embassy compound as well.”
Bowen’s report comes with just months to go before a year-end deadline for the approximately 47,000 American troops currently stationed in Iraq to withdraw from the country, under the terms of a bilateral security pact.
But proposals for a US military training mission of limited size are gaining traction amongst Iraqi politicians, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said, although nothing has yet been agreed.
As a result, Bowen said Iraq was in the midst of a “summer of uncertainty.”
Among his other concerns was the transition of responsibility for training Iraq’s police forces to the US State Department from the military.
He noted that the US embassy’s execution of the police training mission would “be challenging, involving fewer than 200 advisers based at three sites and supporting Iraqi police in 10 provinces.”
The US military and the American embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.