Iraq figures distort terrorism statistics: study

UNITED NATIONS Wed May 21, 2008 1:57pm EDT

An Iraqi soldier takes a rest during a joint mopping-up operation with U.S. soldiers from Bravo Company, 1-22 Infantry Battalion on the edge of Shiite dominated Baghdad's neighbourhood of Shulla, May 20, 2008. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

An Iraqi soldier takes a rest during a joint mopping-up operation with U.S. soldiers from Bravo Company, 1-22 Infantry Battalion on the edge of Shiite dominated Baghdad's neighbourhood of Shulla, May 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Oleg Popov

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A study released on Wednesday reports a decline in fatal attacks of terrorism worldwide and says U.S. think-tank data showing sharp increases were distorted due to the inclusion of killings in Iraq.

"Even if the Iraq 'terrorism' data are included, there has still been a substantial decline in the global terrorism toll," said the 2007 Human Security Brief, an annual report funded by the governments of Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Britain.

For example, global terrorism fatalities declined by 40 percent between July and September 2007, driven by a 55 percent decline in the "terrorism" death toll in Iraq after the so-called surge of new U.S. troops and a cease-fire by the Shi'ite militant Mehdi Army, the brief said.

"We have concluded that the expert consensus (on terrorism) is probably misleading," Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project, told a news conference.

Despite apparent declines in terrorism deaths, many U.S. think-tanks continue to report sharp increases.

Data of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, points to more than a fourfold increase in worldwide deaths due to terrorism from 1998 to 2006. The sharpest increase came after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Other institutes have reached similar conclusions, including the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

"The rising terrorist fatality toll revealed by MIPT and NCTC ..., coupled with the bleak assessments of Western security analysts and intelligence agencies appear to provide compelling support for the claim that both the incidence and the threat of global terrorism have indeed increased," the brief says.

The Human Security Brief says MIPT figures show "an extraordinary 79 percent of global fatalities from terrorism were in Iraq" in 2006 alone.

DISTORTION

There are arguments for including the many attacks on civilians by so-called non-state groups -- insurgents and militants -- in Iraq.

Terrorism experts usually define terrorism as intentional, politically motivated violence against civilians and many of the fatalities in Iraq would qualify.

But even experts from MIPT and other institutes acknowledge that Iraq, where violence against civilians by militants is a daily occurrence five years after the invasion, is a special case not necessarily linked to any global trend.

"If you pulled (Iraq) out, terrorism was steady or maybe slightly lower," James Ellis, research and program director at MIPT, told Reuters. "It has had a distortion effect."

The Human Security Brief also points out an inconsistency in the calculation methods of the institutes. Although they include attacks on civilians in what it describes as Iraq's civil war, they include few similar deaths from African wars.

Mack said this was a "U.S.-centric" view of terrorism.

But MIPT and other institutes say they exclude thousands of annual killings of civilians in Sudan's war-racked Darfur region because they see them as the result of government-backed genocide, not terrorism.

(Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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