How bad is bad? After six weeks away from Iraq and returning to Baghdad, I find the city appears much worse than when I left.
Last week, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Baghdad experienced more attacks from car bombs and improvised explosive devices than at any other time this year. In the last five days, 14 U.S. soldiers have died in Baghdad, numbers that haven't been seen in the city since the 2003 invasion.
ABC's local Iraqi staff tell us there are an increasing number of neighborhoods they no longer dare to visit.
The U.S. military said the reason for the increased casualty rate is that U.S. troops are now aggressively engaging the enemy, and they expected some push back.
When extra U.S. troops first arrived in August, they concentrated on Sunni areas and had considerable success in restoring peace. But now that they have moved into Shiite areas, the resistance has increased.
Compounding the problem for the United States is the uneven state of readiness in the Iraqi security forces. With 15,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad, a city of 5 million, the Americans need Iraqi forces to back them up and keep the peace in neighborhoods as they move on to new areas.
In some cases, the Iraqi police simply don't turn up for work. But even worse is the involvement of some police officers with the death squads that have terrorized the capital for months. On Wednesday an entire police brigade from western Baghdad was suspended from duty because of its connections to death squads.
For ordinary Iraqis, life has become ever more difficult. Many women are now afraid to leave their homes to go shopping, children are kept indoors to play, men sleep with guns next to their beds -- if they can sleep at all. The physical violence is horrific, but even more widespread is the psychological damage afflicting the entire city, which sees its hope for an end to the violence gradually ebbing away.
The U.S. military said the situation in Baghdad would probably get worse before it gets better, and Iraqi citizens wonder how long they can stay alive before their lives improve.