One year after sovereignty restored, nation is in crisis

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The Independent Online

Car bombers have struck Iraq 479 times in the past year, and a third of the attacks followed the naming of a new Iraqi government two months ago, according to a count compiled by the Associated Press news agency and based on reports from police, military and hospital officials.

Car bombers have struck Iraq 479 times in the past year, and a third of the attacks followed the naming of a new Iraqi government two months ago, according to a count compiled by the Associated Press news agency and based on reports from police, military and hospital officials.

The unrelenting attacks, using bombs that can cost as little $17 (£9.30) each to assemble, have become the most-favoured weapon of the government's most determined enemies, Islamic extremists.

The toll has been tremendous: From 28 April through 23 June, there were at least 160 vehicle bombings that killed at least 580 people and wounded at least 1,734. For the year from the handover of sovereignty on 28 June 2204, until 23 June, 2005, there were at least 479 car bombs, killing 2,174 people and wounding 5,520.

Altogether, insurgents have killed at least 1,245 people since the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari took over on 28 April.

There were 77 car bombs in May, killing 317 people and wounding 896. Last month was the most violent for Iraqi civilians since the US-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power in March 2003.

So far, counterinsurgency sweeps by US and Iraqi forces, in Baghdad and in turbulent Anbar province to the west, have not been able to slow the attackers' pace appreciably. But officials say they have recently gained valuable intelligence about how the car bombers operate.

As Iraqi and U.S. military officials went over plans for a recent sweep in Baghdad, they made a startling discovery: Rather than assembling car bombs outside the capital, insurgents were fitting the cars with explosives at workshops inside the city itself.

That discovery, from tips by residents, forced officials to scrap the idea of surrounding Baghdad with troops to control all 23 entrances to the city.

Instead, al-Jaafari said, the planners of Operation Lighting, launched 29 May, switched to setting up checkpoints in the city and making street-by-street sweeps. The tips also led to the discovery of large car bomb factories.

Iraq is flush with the materials for devices. Leftover stockpiles from what was once the world's fourth-largest army supply the artillery shells and explosives.

Getting a car is even easier, because no one asks for registration, a driver's license or paperwork of any kind; only a couple thousand dollars in cash is required to buy one. Hundreds of thousands of cheap, secondhand cars from Europe, the Persian Gulf and Asia flooded into Iraq after the occupation. Many are shipped to the Jordanian port of Aqaba and are then driven overland into Iraq on Jordanian artics.

And last weekend, US and Iraqi forces launched two massive campaigns in Anbar to target foreign fighters coming into Iraq from Syria. They found foreign passports and one round-trip air ticket from Tripoli, Libya, to Damascus, Syria. They included two passports from Sudan, two from Saudi Arabia, two from Libya, two from Algeria and one from Tunisia.

Iraq in numbers

* 479 car bombs in Iraq since the handover of sovereignty, killing 2,174 and wounding 5,520

* 1,731 US soldiers, 88 British soldiers and 93 from other nations killed since March 2003

* Up to 4,895 Iraqi soldiers and 22,507 civilians killed since the invasion

* 92 per cent of Baghdad households have an unstable electricity supply

* 39 per cent have no safe drinking water

* 25 per cent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition

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