WASHINGTON – Terrorists staged nearly 200 significant attacks in Iraq in 2004, exceeding the record number of strikes worldwide the year before, according to data the Bush administration gave to Congress but has been withholding from the public.
The total didn’t include some Iraqi insurgent attacks and more than 100 operations by foreign terrorists in Iraq because they didn’t fit the State Department’s strict criteria of what constitutes an international terrorist attack.
The data raised questions about President Bush’s claim that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terrorism and came as the Pentagon acknowledged that violence in Iraq remains as high as last year.
“In terms of incidents, it’s right about where it was a year ago,” Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the House Governmental Affairs Committee, disclosed the data in a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in which he asked that the statistics be made public.
Rice decided several weeks ago to replace a report, “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” which has been published every year for 19 years, with a document stripped of country-by-country statistics on attacks and casualties for 2004.
The State Department said that the job of releasing the statistics belonged to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, a clearinghouse for all intelligence on terrorism that was created in 2004 on the recommendation of the independent Sept. 11 commission.
But some current and former U.S. officials charged that Rice made a political decision to withhold the data because they showed a dramatic increase in the number of significant terrorism attacks around the world over the high recorded for 2003.
The data disclosed in Waxman’s letter were provided Monday to congressional staffers at a briefing by Karen Aguilar, the State Department’s acting counter-terrorism coordinator, and Russ Travers, the deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center.
The statistics showed that an all-time high of approximately 650 significant terrorism attacks occurred worldwide in 2004, compared with the previous record of 175 attacks the year before.
According to the statistics, approximately 198 attacks occurred in Iraq, compared to 22 for the previous year.
The data also showed an increase – from 14 in 2003 to about 27 in 2004 – in significant terrorist attacks in Afghanistan despite efforts by Afghan security forces backed by some 17,500 U.S. troops to crush the remnants of the Taliban militia.
Another large portion of the significant attacks worldwide – some 300 – recorded for 2004 were related to the insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan-backed Muslim extremists.
“No data was presented at the briefing on the number of fatalities or injuries caused by the terrorist attacks. This essential information has traditionally been released as part of the annual global terrorism report,” Waxman said in his letter.
Waxman said Aguilar and Travers told the staffers that no decision has been made on whether the 2004 statistics will be made public, explaining that it was up to John Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence.
That appeared to contradict an assertion last week by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher that “the people of the United States will get all the facts,” Waxman said.
There was no response to several requests to Aguilar’s office for comment.
“The large increases in terrorist attacks reported in 2004 may undermine administration claims of success in the war on terror, but political inconvenience has never been a legitimate basis for withholding facts from the American people,” Waxman said.