The commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq said Friday he does not have enough troops to deal with the escalating violence in Iraq&
8217;s Diyala province, an unusually frank assertion for a top officer and a sign that American military officials may be starting to offer more candid and blunt assessments of the war.
Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. &
8221; Mixon also said that the Iraqi government has failed to help the situation in the restive province, adding that it has been a hindrance at times by failing to support local army and police forces. Diyala is an eastern Iraqi region bordering Baghdad, where many insurgents are fleeing in the wake of the ongoing buildup of troops in the Iraqi capital.
8217;s call for help coincides with a rise in the number of sectarian death squad killings in Baghdad after the U.S. had heralded a decrease in such deaths as a sign of success of the security clampdown that began Feb. 13 in the capital.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said there were 234 death squad victims &
unidentified men whose bodies were found strewn across the capital &
in the first 11 days in May, compared with 137 in the same time period last month. The numbers so far this month are more than half the total for all of April, when 440 bodies were found, an indication that a downward trend seen in April could be over.
Although calling the increase &
8221; U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said &
8220;there has been a slight uptick, and we&
8217;re obviously very concerned about it.&
Mixon, speaking by teleconference from Camp Spicher outside Tikrit, told a Pentagon news conference Friday that he did not have enough soldiers to deal with security in Diyala province, adding that the local government is &
8221; and the central government is &
8217;m going to need additional forces,&
8221; he said, &
8220;to get that situation to a more acceptable level, so the Iraqi security forces will be able in the future to handle that.&
Mixon was particularly withering in his criticism of the Iraqi government, saying it was hamstrung by bureaucracy and compromised by corruption and sectarian divisions, making it unable to assist U.S. forces in Diyala.
The province is ethnically mixed and has long been home to elements of the Sunni-based insurgency. As the number of American forces has increased in Baghdad and western Anbar province, radicals in the Sunni insurgency and in Shiite death squads have moved into Diyala, which is comparatively undermanned.
There is one U.S. Army brigade now in the province, or about 3,500 troops, compared with 10 brigades in and around Baghdad and four in Anbar. Sixty-three U.S. soldiers have been killed in Diyala so far this year, compared with 20 last year, according to the independent Web site icasualties.org.
Mixon emphasized that he had asked for more troops shortly after arriving in Iraq last September, well before the U.S. troop buildup was started in Baghdad. Mixon said he saw that violence was rising and the region was becoming a stronghold for Sunni extremists tied to al-Qaida in Iraq.
He said he had been given a battalion in reinforcements, or about 800 soldiers, and that Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander in Iraq, has said he would send additional forces when possible.
8220;The level of violence began to increase before the surge,&
8221; Mixon said. &
8220;It has increased, of course, during the surge . . . (because) we are sure that there are elements, both Sunni extremist and Shia extremist, that have moved out of Baghdad.&
It is rare for an officer of Mixon&
8217;s rank to publicly call for more troops. When Donald H. Rumsfeld was secretary of Defense, there were intense pressures on officers to not make such requests, even privately, according to officers who served in Iraq.
8217;s comments were the first of what could be a succession of blunt evaluations by officers under Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a veteran of the Bosnian conflict who is now an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations.
8220;I suspect the new Defense secretary has told general officers to speak their minds,&
8221; Nash said. &
8217;s going to be hard for some in the administration; suddenly they&
8217;re going to feel it from the inside. I think you&
8217;re going to see more of it.&
One Pentagon official said Mixon&
8217;s public request for more troops was being viewed as an attempt to pressure the new commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, into sending more troops to Diyala from Baghdad, since the overstretched Army is currently unable to send substantial numbers of additional reinforcements from the U.S.
Mixon is not known for publicly airing problems he faces in the field. One recently retired Army general close to the northern Iraq commander said his frankness likely stemmed from a new &
8221; under Petraeus that is more conducive to blunt evaluations.
Many Army generals also have been stung by disclosures by lower-ranking officers. A recent article in the Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq War veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, accused the Army&
8217;s top generals of botching the war and misleading the American public and Congress.
8217;s weighing on the consciences of the general officers of our Army,&
8221; Nash said. &
8220;(Yingling) said they failed to live up to their sacred oath of telling the truth. As a consequence, I think everybody is saying, &
8216;Not me. I&
8217;m not going to be guilty of that.&
In Baghdad, the Interior Ministry releases the number of corpses that have been found on the city&
8217;s desolate streets, rubble heaps, empty lots, and under highway overpasses and bridges. There is no way to determine who is conducting the killings or whether the victims are Sunni or Shiite, since victims might be killed in a Shiite area and dumped in a Sunni district.
Generally, death squad killings have been linked mainly to Shiite militias. At the start of the Baghdad security plan, the militias reined in their activities to evade the dragnets established by U.S. and Iraqi troops enforcing the crackdown. The withdrawal also came at the order of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was lending support to the Shiite-led government.
The security plan, however, has failed to quell attacks on Shiites by Sunni Muslim insurgents, so it was natural that some militiamen would return to action, said Joost Hiltermann, an expert on Iraq&
8217;s sectarian war at the International Crisis Group in Amman.
8220;It is consistent with what we know, which is that the Sadrist movement, which melted away once the surge was announced, is very unhappy about the leadership ordering them to go underground,&
8221; Hiltermann said. Now, he said, many Shiite militiamen, both from al-Sadr&
8217;s al-Mahdi Army and from the Badr Brigade, another Shiite militia, have been provoked by escalating suicide bombings and are returning to action.
Hiltermann said most of the killers probably were operating independently, because Shiite leaders have continued to urge restraint.
8220;It is still limited compared to what it was&
8221; before the security plan, he added, when illegal checkpoints manned by masked, gun-toting men were common. Sunnis traveling through Shiite areas, or Shiites traveling through Sunni areas, could be dragged from their cars and executed if stopped at such checkpoints.
In January, the death squads killed 830, and it was common for more than 40 bodies to be found each day. The monthly toll dropped to 530 in February, when the security plan began, and was 542 in March.
Spiegel reported from Washington; Susman and Therolf from Baghdad.
U.S. commander in Iraq cites need for more troops