U.S. President George W. Bush will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan next week with grim new statistics showing record numbers of Iraqis were killed last month and many more fled the country.
A U.N. report said 3,709 civilians were killed in October — 120 a day and up from 3,345 in September. In all, 418,392 moved to other parts of Iraq since the February bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra triggered a surge in sectarian violence.
It said as well as those displaced within Iraq, nearly 100,000 people were fleeing to Syria and Jordan every month — proportionally equivalent to a million Americans emigrating each month, depriving the U.S. economy of a city the size of Detroit.
The meeting between Bush and Maliki in the Jordanian capital Amman, a much safer venue than Baghdad, will follow a weekend visit to Iran by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and this week’s landmark visit to Iraq by Syria’s foreign minister.
They will be the first lengthy talks between Bush and Maliki since Bush pledged a new approach on Iraq after his Democratic opponents took control of Congress.
A month ago the two spoke to ease mutual irritation about how much the other was doing to halt violence.
They agreed to draw up plans for accelerating the training of Iraqi forces and the transfer of responsibility. Maliki said Iraqis could take charge in six months, half the U.S. estimate.
A joint statement on the November 29-30 summit said: "We will focus our discussions on current developments in Iraq, progress made to date in the deliberations of a high-level joint committee on transferring security responsibility and the role of the region in supporting Iraq."
American politicians, notably Democrats pressing for troop withdrawal, are frustrated that, after six months in power, Maliki has failed to disband militias loyal to fellow Shi’ites.
With Bush’s allies urging him to reach out on Iraq to U.S. adversaries in Tehran and Damascus, Washington reacted coolly to the flurry of regional diplomacy seen with Syria restoring full relations with Iraq and Talabani saying he would visit Iran.
According to the U.N. bimonthly human rights report, Baghdad was the epicenter of the violence, accounting for nearly 5,000 of all the 7,054 deaths in September and October, with most of the bodies bearing signs of torture and gunshot wounds.
Sectarian attacks were the main source of violence, fuelled by insurgent attacks and militias as well as criminal groups.
"Entire communities have been affected to various degrees and, in some areas, neighborhoods have been split up or inhabitants have been forced to flee to other areas or even to neighboring countries in search of safety," the report said.
The report said that ethnic and religious minorities, such as Christians, were being targeted along with professionals such as academics, lawyers, judges and journalists.
Confidence in the security forces was undermined because death squads are operating "often in collusion with or the support of the Iraqi police", the report said. Militias were also reported to be forcibly evicting people from their homes.
Following the Republicans’ defeat at Congressional elections this month, Bush has said he is looking for "fresh perspectives" on Iraq. Next month he is expected to receive recommendations on Iraq from a bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and the Pentagon is conducting its own review.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Maliki has "obviously been developing his own ideas on the way forward".
Some analysts say Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accused by Washington of backing Shi’ite militias in Iraq, may have pushed Sunday’s talks in Tehran to upstage Bush. Ahmadinejad also invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although Iraqi officials said a three-way summit is unlikely.
© Reuters 2006