McClatchy: Civilian Deaths Steady through Surge; August Secret Official Toll Staggering 2,890; Mahdi Army Continuing Ethnic Cleansing

Everybody’s got a status report on Iraq these days.

The consistently best and most clear-eyed wire service on Iraq, whose Pentagon correspondents are pointedly not invited to fly with the Secretary of Defense, is McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder). It has a long article on Sunday on how the security situation is not in fact better in Iraq now than last January. I’m going to pull out snippets below, some of them out of order:

“Civilian deaths haven’t decreased in any significant way across the country, according to statistics from the Iraqi Interior Ministry, and numbers gathered by McClatchy Newspapers show no consistent downward trend even in Baghdad, despite military assertions to the contrary. The military has provided no hard numbers to back the claim. . .”

“. . . Overall, civilian casualties in Iraq appear to have remained steady throughout the siege, though numbers are difficult to come by.

“. . . According to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, 984 people were killed across Iraq in February, and 1,011 died in violence in August. No July numbers were released because the ministry said the numbers weren’t clear.

But an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to release numbers said those numbers were heavily manipulated.

The official said 1,980 Iraqis had been killed in July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2,890. . .”

“Services haven’t improved across most of the capital — the international aid group Oxfam reported in July that only 30 percent of Iraqis have access to clean water, compared with 50 percent in 2003 — and tens of thousands of Iraqis are fleeing their homes each month in search of safety. . .”

” . . . Oxfam estimates that 28 percent of Iraqi children are malnourished, compared with 19 percent before the U.S. invasion. . .”

“Baghdad has become more segregated. Sunni Muslims in the capital now live in ghettos encircled by concrete blast walls to stop militia attacks and car bombs. Shiite militias continue to push to control the city’s last mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the southwest, by murdering and intimidating Sunni residents and, sometimes, their Shiite neighbors. . .”

“[In Baghdad] the push to drive Sunnis from Shiite neighborhoods continues in a city that U.S. military officers say has gone from being 65 percent Sunni to being 75 percent Shiite . . .

Unidentified bodies continue to show up daily in Baghdad, though the pace is lower than it was last December, when 1,030 bodies were found . . . dropping . . . to 428 in August. Some military officials and many residents attribute the generally lower numbers not to the U.S. security plan, but to the purges in mixed neighborhoods that have left militants with fewer people to kill.

Of an estimated 1 million Iraqis who’ve fled their homes since February 2006, 83 percent are from Baghdad, the IOM says.

“There have been very few returns,” Ladek said. Those that have come back have done so only briefly to gather belongings. “They are waiting for long-term stability. . .”

Iraqi security forces remain heavily infiltrated by militias, and political leaders continue to intervene in their activities. . .”

Officials agree that the anti-Islamist coalition in Anbar has yet to ally itself with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and a recent National Intelligence Estimate warned that it might even threaten it. . .

In the north since the surge began, suspected Sunni extremists have carried out some of the deadliest terror attacks of the war, killing hundreds in car and truck bombings. . .

Sunni militants remain openly active in the north. Three weeks ago, fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaida in Iraq front organization, paraded through the streets of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, said tribal sheik Fawaz Mohammed al Jarba. “It’s very bad,” Jarba said. “There are so many attacks that never make it in the media.” . .

In the Shiite-dominated south, violence is rising as Shiite militias vie with one another for control.

At least 52 people were killed this month when fighting broke out between the Mahdi Army and the rival Badr Organization during a religious festival in Karbala.

In Basra, the strategic port city on the Persian Gulf, those militias and one from the Fadhila party have fought pitched battles for control, with the death toll rising throughout the year, from 59 in January to 134 in May. In August, 90 people died there. . .

Maliki’s cabinet still has nearly as many vacancies as it has sitting ministers, and no major legislation governing Iraq’s major issues, including a militia disarmament program, has made it to the floor of the Iraqi parliament.

Last week, the parliament, back from its summer vacation, barely had a quorum in its first meetings. . .

“. . . No Iraqi McClatchy spoke to in preparation for this article said he or she had confidence in the government. . .”