US commander says Iraq’s political impasse encouraging spike in attacks

By Bushra Juhi, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

US general: Iraq political limbo fueling violence

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prolonged political crisis has encouraged a spike in violence and pushed frustrated citizens to begin holding back crucial tips on suspected insurgents, the top U.S. commander for Baghdad said Wednesday.

The comments by U.S. Brig. Gen. Rob Baker reflect growing unease that Iraq’s nearly seven-month impasse on forming a new government could erode security gains. Baker also told reporters that Iraq risks losing needed foreign investment.

Iraq’s political leaders have been at odds over forming a new government since elections in March that failed to produce a clear winner.

Baker said al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents have stepped up attacks to try to discredit Shiite-led authorities. Shiite militias also have increased rocket strikes on Baghdad’s protected Green Zone.

“It’s our assessment (that) these attacks are designed to intimidate the public and … create the perception that the Iraqi security forces are somehow weak or ineffectual in their ability to challenge these insurgent groups,” Baker said.

The increased attacks — most of them against Iraqi police and military targets — have raised questions about how ready Iraqi forces were to assume ultimate security responsibility a month ago with the formal shift in U.S. military mission from combat to training.

President Barack Obama officially declared an end to American combat in Iraq at the end of August, a deadline that also marked the reduction in U.S. troop numbers to 50,000 from a one-time high of 170,000.

U.S. troops are still involved in fighting, however, taking part in counterterrorism raids jointly with U.S.-trained Iraqi forces almost daily, Baker said.

The political impasse is also having an impact by sapping the public’s confidence in the government and along with it their willingness to cooperate and provide tips on insurgents.

“We know there is a relationship between confidence in the government and security and the willingness of the citizens to share information about insurgent activity,” Baker said.

Earlier in the year, the level of cooperation from the public was good, he said, but it has since dwindled as people wait to see which side comes out on top.

“They are essentially fence sitting. They are sitting on the fence trying to see which way this is going to play out,” Baker said.

Iraq’s political chiefs have been unable to agree on a government since March parliamentary elections, which were narrowly won by a Sunni-backed coalition. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is battling to stay in power.

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