Iraq less safe than a year ago

'Summer of uncertainty'

BAGHDAD - Iraq is a less safe place than it was one year ago as security deteriorates, an American watchdog warned on Saturday.
"Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work," Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said in the report published on Saturday. "It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago."
Bowen noted 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 (-backed) 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 ahead of 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.
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 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."
Bowen's report put the number of Iraqi police at 302,000 as of the end of June, with an additional 229,000 officers falling under the interior ministry, responsible for securing Iraq's borders, oil installations and key facilities.
Iraq's armed forces number around 270,000, according to the report.
The US military did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and an American embassy spokesman declined to remark, referring such requests to the State Department in Washington.