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Tilting at Windmills

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September 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

VIOLENCE IN IRAQ....The LA Times, in a survey of fatalities that doesn't try to cherry pick the data, provides its latest summary of civilian violence in Iraq:

Bombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen....The numbers are based on morgue, hospital and police records and come from officials in the ministries of Health, Defense and the Interior. The statistics appear to indicate that the increase in troops ordered by President Bush this year has done little to curb civilian bloodshed, despite U.S. military statements to the contrary.

Military officials have said the security plan is showing progress because the number of attacks on civilians has decreased and sectarian killings have dropped....The U.S. military says the numbers it gathers are lower than those provided by Iraqi ministries, but it does not release them.

The chart above shows war-related violent deaths for the entire year of 2007 as compiled by the Times. What's remarkable is that not only does it not show any decrease since the beginning of the surge in February, but it doesn't even show a significant dip during summer, traditionally the quietest season in Iraq.

It's simply not plausible that the Pentagon has credible numbers demonstrating that the surge is successful but is refusing to release them. No agency refuses to release good news that it can back up rigorously, after all. Bottom line: If the Pentagon wants to continue claiming that violence in Iraq is down due to the surge, it had better start producing public numbers and public justification for its methodology, and it had better start doing it fast. From where I sit, their classified briefings look more like politically motivated flimflammery than an honest accounting of progress.

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Comments

Now, who are we supposed to believe? This report or General Petraeus as he descends the ladder from the tip top of a cherry tree?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 1, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

But if you take it as a percentage of the square of the number of people fleeing Iraq, divided by the average daily temperature, it proves the surge is working!

You and your mindless Bush hatred, Kevin. For shame. But you Hate America...

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on September 1, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I've read the ongoing media and blogosphere debate about "is our surge working?" with some bemusement. When the surge/escalation/reinforcment was announced, I don't recall seeing specific goals other than "winning".

In the current political atmosphere, I interpreted that to mean reducing the negative political fallout at home by reducing US military casualties.

Fewer US soldiers have died. Thus the surge/escalation/reinforcement is working. QED.
Any collateral damage is Al Maliki's fault. (Convenient fall guy...)

And yes, this is intended as satire and/or cynicism.

Posted by: AC on September 1, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

The dataset in your graph is noisy, to be sure, but looks like a definite downard trend since January.

But hey, if it helps your cause to change the start date to Feb, go right ahead. Facts never got in the way of a liberal.

Posted by: egbert on September 1, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

AC: "Fewer US soldiers have died"

And even if you mean to be cynical, it isn't true. US soldier deaths are up, as Kevin's wonky goodness showed on the Juan Cole thread last night.

So, more US soldiers are dying, & more Iraqis are dying. Swell progress, eh?

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 1, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

btw..

More political good news from Iraq: Maliki breaks with Sadists and arrests some 300 of them. Their democracy is repudiating terrorism.

Posted by: egbert on September 1, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

If the Pentagon wants to continue claiming that violence in Iraq is down due to the surge, it had better start producing public numbers and public justification for its methodology, and it had better start doing it fast.

If our experience of the last fifty years is any guide, the Pentagon will not have to do any such thing. Instead it will use the tried and true formula of endless repetition of unsupported assertions, relentless fear-mongering and attacks on the loyalty and qualifications of anyone who dares to disagree with or challenge their claims.

Start with the "missile gap," move through the "domino theory," think about the pervasive lying to justify the claim of Soviet superiority, consider the widespread belief in the connection between Iraq and 9/11. Then ask yourself: when has it ever been necessary for the military-national security state to justify its claims or actions with facts?

Merely asking such questions puts one's patriotism in question.

Posted by: James E. Powell on September 1, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

More political good news from Iraq: Maliki breaks with Sadists and arrests some 300 of them. Their democracy is repudiating terrorism.

Wrong thrice. It's Sadrists, Maliki turning on a close ally is a bad sign, and arbitrary arrests are a form of terror.

Better trolls, please.

Posted by: F. Frederson on September 1, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Can we just forget the whole myth about a military that is controlled by civilian elected officials? We now have a military that is using all of its skills in military propaganda against its own country. Since when does the military high command caucus with the Republican party. This could be one of the scariest developments yet

Posted by: Joe on September 1, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

eggie, old chap,

Yeah, al-Maliki may have broken off with "Sadists", but his heavy ties with Masochists kinda offsets that.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 1, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

But hey, if it helps your cause to change the start date to Feb, go right ahead. Facts never got in the way of a liberal.

You dipshit. the glorious surge got underway on February 14th. Your recall is as good as your spelling. Idiot.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 1, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

If the Pentagon wants to continue claiming that violence in Iraq is down due to the surge, it had better start producing public numbers and public justification for its methodology, and it had better start doing it fast.

—Kevin Drum

They don't have to claim violence in Iraq is down due to the surge. They just have to claim that the surge is "working" -- and key Dems have already accepted that and stated as much.

None of the Dems -- save maybe Kucinich, and he doesn't matter, even to the Dems -- has the balls to tell Petraeus and Bush that the surge is not working!

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 1, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

February 14 - Yeah, it was sorta our Valentine's Day gift to the Grim Reaper.

Posted by: stupid git on September 1, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Eggdirt

The "down" part of your downward trend happened from January to February, before the surge started. Maybe if we had withdrawn troops instead of surging them the trend would have continued.

Posted by: tomeck on September 1, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sort of a takeoff on that old "Hearts and Minds" - only this has been "Hearts and Body Bags".

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 1, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Officials in those ministries have not been reliable sources in the past, and some of them have solid Sadr links. Their figures should be taken with at least as much skepticism as U.S. military figures.

While violence in general has not dropped, more of it now is al Qaeda-type bombings, mostly in outlying areas. The sectarian violence, the so-called "civil war," has indeed dropped.

Posted by: harry on September 1, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"so-called 'civil war'"

Sounds like a take off from SNL - The ones where a young lady had taken some law courses - So, she threw "allegedly" about with abandon.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 1, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

[trolling by this commenter is routinely deleted]

Posted by: Liberal_Crusher on September 1, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Egbert must sure miss Westmoreland and his numbers of Vietcong killed!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on September 1, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Eggie's sense of history is such, that he still recalls Viet Kong climbing the Empire State Building, swatting at B-25s.

Posted by: stupid git on September 1, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can you post the 'month by month' for previous years?

Posted by: Bob Wallace on September 1, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

It sure would be nice to hear Pelosi/Reid explain why this article from Pat Buchanan isn't completely true: http://www.antiwar.com/pat/?articleid=11538

Posted by: ed on September 1, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Wallace;

here is a link to a post that has a link to the Brookings Index .pdf. Some information has been culled from the pdf and reproduced in the post linked.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 1, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on September 1, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

P.S. - I the full month-by-month is on page 18 of the Brookings Index. I didn't link directly to it because it is a .pdf.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 1, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

US deaths by month
8-2007 81
8-2006 65
8-2005 85
8-2004 66
8-2003 35

Posted by: facts on September 1, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

If the Pentagon wants to continue claiming that violence in Iraq is down due to the surge, it had better start producing public numbers and public justification for its methodology...

Parse carefully; from Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, DoD, June 2007:

  • Sectarian Murders and Incidents (pg. 17) shows major reductions Feb-Apr '07.
  • Average Daily Casualties (pg. 24) shows an all-time high for Feb-May '07.
By the DoD's own (public) numbers, "sectarian murders" are down and civilian casualties are up. (However, "sectarian murder" is whatever they say it is, and they aren't saying. The ISG criticized the methodology in Dec '06 but it's impossible to tell what effect that has had, if any.)

Note benchmark:

(xiii) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
There is no benchmark for overall Iraqi civilian casualties, only those that are a result of sectarian violence, and the DoD can thus claim "that violence in Iraq is down due to the surge" based on that benchmark. Reality? No. Gaming the system? Definitely.

What we need is transparency of what the DoD considers "sectarian violence", and an explanation of the huge difference between the DoD's published numbers for "sectarian murders" and overall Iraqi civilan casualties.*


* For Jan-Apr '07, using the DoD June '07 and LAT numbers, the DoD attributes only 48% of all Iraqi civilian casualties (~7100 according to the LAT) to sectarian violence (~3400 according to the DoD).

Posted by: has407 on September 1, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

It sure would be nice to hear Pelosi/Reid explain why this article from Pat Buchanan isn't completely true: http://www.antiwar.com/pat/?articleid=11538

Posted by: ed

Exactly. Buchanan is spot on. The cost of dem cowardice now is war with Iran.

Posted by: Econbuzz on September 1, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

harry: Officials in those ministries have not been reliable sources in the past, and some of them have solid Sadr links. Their figures should be taken with at least as much skepticism as U.S. military figures.

The DoD published numbers, based on average casualties/day, are higher than the ministry-reported numbers (see my previous post). While the DoD qualifies those numbers as "only for comparative purposes", that comparison shows a significant increase for Feb-May '07 over preceding periods.

While violence in general has not dropped, more of it now is al Qaeda-type bombings, mostly in outlying areas. The sectarian violence, the so-called "civil war," has indeed dropped.

If you take the DoD's numbers for sectarian murders and overall civilian casualties at face value, sectarian violence has decreased, and a significant AQI activity is a resonable assumption to account for the difference in numbers (what else?). Which says little good about operations, and the much vaunted Sunni cooperation, against AQI.

In short, either the DoD's numbers for "sectarian violence" are seriously understated, or we're doing a lousy job of keeping AQI et. al. from killing more people than in previous periods. This is not progress. In any case, dead is dead, and it will matter little to the average Iraqi which column their death is tallied in.

As for the "civil war", see Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, NIE, Jan 2007:

The Intelligence Community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
The Aug '07 NIE update did not modify those findings.

Posted by: has407 on September 1, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Wallace: Can you post the 'month by month' for previous years?

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a source for previous year month-by-month numbers using the same sources as the LAT (Iraq ministries). If anyone has a link to such a source, it would be greatly appreciatd.

For month-by-month Iraqi casualties see this page at icasualties.org. One of the sources for icasualties.org is iraqbodycount.org, which unfortunately does not provide monthly totals or database query tools as sophisticated as icasualties.org. (You have to suck in the iraqbodycount.org raw data to do get usable statistics. It also appears iraqbodycount.org stopped updating the site in mid-July.)

The lack of consistent and credible sources for Iraqi casualties has been a persistent problem and has made it extremely difficult to do apples-to-apples analysis.

Posted by: has407 on September 1, 2007 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think it has become a matter of the administration being casualty adverse--
as their own goals remain unmet--clearly--and it is easy to blame this on Iraqi shortcomings.
Meanwhile, they destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure, creating distress, ignoring local social systems and ethnic groups--- let alone humanitarian concerns.
Their goal was to privatize government, and they did it overseas--as a pilot project--in Iraq.
Be widely suspect of the Petraeus report, and instead, embrace the Government Accounting Report, which is reality- based and realistic.
These are orwellian times

Posted by: consider wisely always on September 1, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

[deleted]

Posted by: wake on September 1, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

The hanging death of Saddam was obscene, and likely traumatic.
Wake is nuts to say they are better off--most fled the country, others are fatherless, young children joined the jihad.
Better? How about battered?:

Posted by: consider wisely always on September 1, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

"The chart says deaths are down since the 2000."

You cannot compare the numbers from any chart today to the numbers when Saddam ruled the country. It's an apples to oranges comparison.

Posted by: PaulB on September 1, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

See, what the DoD knows, that we don't, is the number of civilians killed by us, and our allies, subtract that from the total and the numbers go way down...or am I just being paranoid?

Posted by: Northzax on September 1, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

[Intellectually dishonest trolling deleted. Or in other words, I'm finally tired of you pissing on the carpet here.]

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 2, 2007 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

>>It's backwards to withdraw from Iraq because our enemy is killing lots of innocent civilians.

Yeah, we know, Rumsfeld. When the casualties are down it is a sign of success. When the casualties are up it is a sign of success. The fewer civilians that are killed, the longer we need to stay (because we're winning and victory is just around the corner.) The more civilians that are killed, the longer we need to stay (because they know are plan is working and are trying to derail it or they are Nazis and we must defeat them.)

Also, gas will go to $23.60 per gallon, we'll all starve, get AIDS, and have to wear burkas if we stop the surge.

Does that about cover it?

Posted by: Orson on September 2, 2007 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

Should we give the former (cough, cough) liberal a pass and let him self-correct the stupidity he just posted?

Anyway, a question: Are these figures meant to show only Iraqi deaths by other Iraqis or do they include civilians collaterally killed by coalition fighting?

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