Violence against U.S. troops in Iraq at all-time high

Attacks in Iraq on U.S.-led forces, local security personnel and civilians have surged 22 percent to record levels, the Pentagon said in its latest quarterly report on Iraq published on Monday.

The report also noted a rise in civilian casualties and said this was directly linked to the rise of sectarian death squads, which were helped by elements of Iraqi forces.

The report was released on the day Robert Gates was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary and as President George W. Bush considers changes to his Iraq policy. Gates replaces Donald Rumsfeld, heavily criticized for his handling of the war.

"Attack levels — both overall and in all specific measurable categories — were the highest on record during this reporting period," said the report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," produced for the U.S. Congress.

The average number of attacks per week rose to 959 in the three months from August 12 to November 10, from 784 in the previous three months, according to figures provided by the Pentagon to accompany the report.

While U.S. commanders have said they continue to battle insurgents and al Qaeda militants, they have identified sectarian violence between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims as the biggest obstacle to stability in Iraq.

The report said civilian casualties from attacks had risen a further 2 percent over the previous three months and by some 60 percent compared to earlier in the year.

"Death squads predominantly target civilians and the increase in civilian casualties is directly correlated to an increase in death squad activities," the report said.

"Shi’a death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations," the report also said.

"This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions," it said.

The Pentagon’s figures put daily civilian casualties at 93 for the reporting period, although the report says the numbers are not precise because they come from unverified initial reports and should be used only to draw comparisons with previous periods.

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