The scale of the human disaster in the Iraq war has become clearer from statistics collected by two humanitarian groups that reveal the number of Iraqis who have fled the fighting has more than doubled since the US military build-up began in February.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation said the total number of internally displaced has jumped from 499,000 to 1.1 million since extra US forces arrived with the aim of making the country more secure. The UN-run International Organisation for Migration says the numbers fleeing fighting in Baghdad grew by a factor of 20 in the same period.
These damning statistics reveal that despite much- trumpeted security improvements in certain areas, the level of murderous violence has not declined. The studies reveal that the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes not intending to return is far higher than before the US surge.
The flight is especially marked in religiously mixed areas of central Iraq, with Shia refugees heading south and Sunnis towards the west and north of the country.
Calling it the worst human displacement in Iraq's modern history, a report by the UN migration office suggests that the fierce fighting that has followed the arrival of new US troops is partly responsible.
The spectre of ethnic cleansing now hovers over the once relatively harmonious country. The UN found that 63 per cent of the Iraqis fled their neighbourhoods because of threats to their lives. More than 25 per cent said they fled after being thrown out of their homes at gunpoint.
The statistics were released as President George Bush's policy of staying the course in Iraq was under grave threat yesterday as the scale of the humanitarian disaster became clearer and a key Republican senator said that it was time to bring the troops home.
A dangerous rift has also emerged inside the US military between the high command, which says the strain the war is putting on the military endangers American security, and commanders on the ground who still say it is a winnable war.
For President Bush, the greatest danger may come from losing the support of Senator John Warner, one of the most influential Republicans in Congress on Iraq. Just back from a trip to the country, he bluntly told the President to start pulling troops out in time for Christmas. He did so as a damning new assessment was delivered by all 15 US intelligence agencies. Written by the CIA, it concluded that the government in Baghdad was "unable to govern effectively" and "will become more precarious" in the next six to 12 months, with little hope of reaching accommodation among political factions.
There was further bad news for the President overnight when it emerged that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is quietly advising that US forces in Iraq be halved by early next year. The advice, from Marine General Peter Pace, is a direct challenge to the White House and other senior military chiefs, in particular the man now running the war in Iraq, the Army General David Petraeus.
General Petraeus has told President Bush that forces in Iraq need to be kept higher than 100,000 troops well into next year. General Petraeus is widely expected to back the White House view that in the absence of political progress in Iraq, US troops need to be increased.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Los Angeles Times reports, were privately sceptical about the military "surge" ordered by President Bush. Although they backed the surge policy in public, the country's top generals and the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, believe the size of the US force in Iraq must be reduced so that the military can respond to other global threats.
2007 Independent News and Media Limited