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Report gives troop surge mixed review

WASHINGTON – Violence in Iraq rose slightly in the three months ending in May despite the Bush administration’s troop buildup because of an increase in attacks in cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful in the past, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.

The intense focus on Baghdad and western Iraq by newly arriving U.S. troops pushed insurgent groups into other regions, causing a rise in violence in northern and eastern provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, the Pentagon said in a quarterly report on Iraqi security sent to Congress.

The U.S. military repeatedly has touted decreases in sectarian and insurgent killings in Baghdad and western Al Anbar province, which have been the focus of the so-called “surge.” While U.S. officials have acknowledged problems in Diyala, the report for the first time documents that rising violence there and in other outlying provinces have largely offset gains in Iraq’s center. Overall, the average of more than 1,000 attacks each week represented a 2 percent increase over the preceding three months.

The report is the first in a series of Pentagon evaluations to cover a period that encompasses the troop buildup. The report contains frequent caveats, noting that additional forces were still arriving during the February to May period evaluated, and it repeatedly asserted it was too early to draw any firm conclusions about the buildup.

But the rise in violence elsewhere reveals an early trend that could further complicate the Bush administration’s goals in Iraq. Current U.S. military plans do not call for additional troops to be moved to outlying provinces, despite calls by some commanders for more forces to deal with the rise in insurgent attacks in those places.

According to the report, Shiite Muslim fighters affiliated with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have begun to filter south over the last three months, contributing to a “significant increase in attacks” against coalition forces in the city of Basra and inflaming inter-Shiite factionalism in the region.

Potentially more problematical, the report documents Sunni insurgents tied to al-Qaida in Iraq moving in significant numbers, confirming anecdotal reports of al-Qaida fighters fleeing Al Anbar and setting up new bases in Diyala province, where U.S. military officials have requested more troops.

But the report also shows the violence has moved beyond the well-publicized flare-ups in Diyala.

In Mosul, for example, which is Iraq’s third largest city and a place where in the past Iraqi forces have been able to maintain security with minimal U.S. assistance, the report found that insurgent and terrorist groups have increased the frequency and intensity of their attacks against police.

The same was true in the northern city of Tal Afar, once touted by the White House as a case study in how its new counterinsurgency plan can be effective. There, Sunni extremists tied to al-Qaida in Iraq have attempted to reignite sectarian conflicts through a series of “high-profile attacks against civilians,” the study found.

Similar problems were reported in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk and the Sunni stronghold of Baqubah.