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Tilting at Windmills

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November 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OCTOBER IRAQ UPDATE....It's the first of November, which means it's time for our monthly update on violence in Iraq. Handily for me, Ned Parker of the LA Times has a pretty evenhanded story today on exactly that subject:

Iraq's civilian body count in October was less than half that at its height in January, reflecting both the tactical successes of this year's U.S. troop buildup and the lasting impact of waves of sectarian death squad killings, car bombings and neighborhood purges.

....American commanders credit the buildup, which reached full strength in June, with slowing sectarian bloodshed....But others say that the picture is more complicated than that because those seeking to cleanse their neighborhoods of rival religious sects have largely succeeded. The civilian death toll plummeted nationwide in the last two months; the toll was 2,076 in January but 884 in September and 758 in October, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.

At the same time, with an Iraqi government that remains riven by sectarian strife, the future remains unclear, American authorities acknowledge...."People just aren't confident yet that that's definitively, conclusively over. And I think it's going to be awhile before they do," Crocker told reporters. "If I were one of them, I'd certainly feel that way."

Iraqi Health Ministry numbers are only modestly reliable, but Engram has his usual statistical dump here based on ICCC figures, and it shows pretty much the same thing. U.S. troop casualties are also down significantly. Elsewhere, Michael Yon quotes Sunni Sheik Omar Jabouri saying that "Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated."

Sheik Omar said that al Qaeda had been "defeated mentally, and therefore is defeated physically," referring to how clear it has become that the terrorist group's tactics have backfired. Operatives who could once disappear back into the crowd after committing an increasingly atrocious attack no longer find safe haven among the Iraqis who live in the southern part of Baghdad.

Jabouri joined the American side earlier this year and has since been one of the most important Sunni sheiks working with us. I don't know whether to take his statement as bombast or reality, but if it's real it's good news. Getting the civilian population to turn against terrorists and insurgents is by far the most important sign of progress in the effort to reduce violence.

The usual caveat applies to all this, of course. While the casualty reports are good news, what really matters is the same thing that's always mattered: political reconciliation, infrastructure rebuilding, and economic progress. Maybe a few more months of reduced violence will pave the way for this, but so far we've seen nada, as Ned Parker's piece makes clear. It's also not clear just how much of the reduction in violence is due to American efforts and how much is due to the fact that sectarian cleansing has been pretty successful and there are very few mixed neighborhoods left in Baghdad. If the latter, there's really not much reason for us to stick around, is there?

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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Comments

Yglesias or Ezra made the point that the violence can only go on for so long, until most neighborhoods are "purified."

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 1, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

i already told you we turned the corner and the enemy was in their last throes...

2-years ago!!!

don't you believe me?

f..y..i..

it also helps if you stop counting iraqi's killed by car bombs..


Posted by: dead eye dick cheney on November 1, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

OK, Bush's surge was pure genius. Time to declare "Mission Accomplished" and come home.

Posted by: AJ on November 1, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

It's also not clear just how much of the reduction in violence is due to American efforts and how much is due to the fact that sectarian cleansing has been pretty successful and there are very few mixed neighborhood left in Baghdad. If the latter, there's really not much reason for us to stick around, is there?

If it's the former, there's really not much reason for us to stick around -- unless we plan on having an open-ended commitment as Iraq's de facto police force. The Surge has turned our military into a rent-a-cop doing charity work for a client that doesn't want its services.

Posted by: junebug on November 1, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

If it's the former, there's really not much reason for us to stick around -- unless we plan on having an open-ended commitment as Iraq's de facto police force. The Surge has turned our military into a rent-a-cop doing charity work for a client that doesn't want its services. Posted by: junebug

Well said.

Posted by: JeffII on November 1, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on November 1, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Cute suggestion, that Iraq is sufficiently pacified so that the US can pull out now. Much of Germany was almost literally obliterated by Allied forces by 1945 when World War Two ended. The US is still in Germany. Posted by: mhr

Ya know Mr. Hummer (that's the abbreviation, right?), not only are you politically misguided, but you can't even spray your monitor with spittle in a coherent fashion - ". . . almost literally . . ."?

While it's true that the U.S. has a modest force presence in Germany, we are no longer occupying the country (haven't been doing that for about 50 years now).

As far as Iraq being "sufficiently pacified," at the this point I couldn't give a shit as Iraq is also 8,000 miles away and because, other than oil, we have no interests in the region. Furthermore, if we left and quit rattling sabers at Iran, I bet the oil situation, as it is a highly fungible commodity traded on an international market, would stabilize quite a bit.

Posted by: JeffII on November 1, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Its terrific that the violence is reduced, but the purpose of the surge was to buy time -- "breathing space," (Bush's words)-- for Iraqi political reconciliation. PROGRESS TOWARDS THAT GOAL HAS BEEN NEGLIGIBLE. The surge was a military tactic to achieve the political strategy of reconciliation.

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on November 1, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

We should always remember that every armed conflict has had its lulls and periods of declining carnage.

By late August 1944, American commanders were so confident of impending victory in Western Europe by Christmas of that year that SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces) failed to order winter clothing for the troops in the field, and further ordered that Christmas packages sent to the troops by their families not even be shipped overseas.

Then came the disaster at Arnhem (memorialized by the late Cornelius Ryan in A Bridge Too Far), the bloody American repulse at the Battle of Hurtgen Forest along Germany's former "Siegfried Line", and the massive German winter offensive against undermanned American lines in the Ardennes ("The Battle of the Bulge"), all of which collectively resulted in a couple hundred thousand American casualties, including close to 70,000 killed.

And let us also remember that only months prior to the communists' February 1968 Tet Offensive, during which several thousands of American troops would lose their lives, American military commanders during the Vietnam War were making comments to President Johnson about the seeing "light at the end of the tunnel", to which Johnson would presciently quip, “Light at the end of the tunnel? We don't even have a tunnel; we don't even know where the tunnel is.”

I will therefore remain both cautiously optimistic that perhaps -- and just perhaps -- the worst might indeed be behind us, and stone-cold sober in my assessment that any declarations of success and victory at this point will only prove as woefully premature as President Bush's self-congratulatory and now-infamous "Mission Accomplished" plane ride to the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in May 2003.

My instinct tells me that this thing ain't over. Not by a long shot.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 1, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Cue "ex-liberal" repeating his claims about "progress" in Iraq (as part of his dilegently laying the foundations for the Dolchstosslegende) in 3...2...

Posted by: Gregory on November 1, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Much of Germany was almost literally obliterated by Allied forces by 1945 when World War Two ended. The US is still in Germany.

Funny thing. Whatever harebrained talking points you have about US military bases in Germany, you won't find that nearly half of Germans approve attacks on those bases.

Posted by: junebug on November 1, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

So, in other words, deaths and bombings are back to where they were 1-2 years ago. Which was really a Golden Age.

Meanwhile, Turkey is about to invade Kurdistan, a US attack on Iran will trigger a full-scale Shiite uprising, and the Sunni Arabs still aren't going to put up with being a persecuted minority living under Shi'a religious law.

Posted by: Speed on November 1, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Also, there's the fact that US troops are doing their best to avoid contact with the enemy:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IJ26Ak07.html

Posted by: Speed on November 1, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Cute suggestion, that Iraq is sufficiently pacified so that the US can pull out now. Much of Germany was almost literally obliterated by Allied forces by 1945 when World War Two ended. The US is still in Germany.

Of course! I don't know how it evaded me before! The situations are exactly the same! We are fighting a uniformed army in Iraq just like we did in Germany! And 70% of all Germans think it's just dandy to blow the hell out of Americans and drive them from the country! (I recall feeling fearful of Bader-Meinhoff, but I never thought seven of ten Germans supported that organization or it's goals.)

Thank you mhr for clearing it all up so beautifully!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 1, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Not many people yet are talking about the possibility that the Mosul dam could rupture in the near future.

You think Iraq is already a clusterfuck? Throw in thousands of dead by drowning and even less electric capacity than now ...

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 1, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not many people yet are talking about the possibility that the Mosul dam could rupture in the near future.

FEMA, baby.

Posted by: junebug on November 1, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I hope the surge is working. I hope we can get our kids out of there before some damn fool gets the idea that they should be attacking Iran. However these data are not enough to convince me, yet.

Posted by: mmy on November 1, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't care about Iraq anymore. The body counts mean zip. The reality is that Iraq is a mess and will take a generation to heal.

We should be talking about our own cities here in the USA.

Philadelphia for starters.

I grew up there. My parents still live there. So does my sister.

Violent crime in our own country is far more of a threat to us all than Bush's efforts in the Mid-East.

Everyday that we focus on Iraq, more guns slip into the hands of US citizens.

The City of Brotherly Love?

Iraq is already a hell. Let's look more closely at the hellacious conditions of our own cities.

Who knows? Maybe Al- quaeda shot that cop in the Dunkin Donuts.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 1, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

What no one - right or left - seems to get is that even if violence goes down to zero, and even if there is "political reconciliation" in Iraq, the war will still have been a total disaster, and one of the worst strategic mistakes in U.S. history. A secular state that has been a buffer against Iran will be replaced by an Islamic client state of Iran. Women who had had a measure of freedom and independence will now be forced to live under mullah-driven extremes of Sharia. Entire neighborhoods and cities have been cleansed of religious diversity. Several hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed, and millions of refugees have been created. Several thousand Americans have been killed and over 20,000 grievously wounded, our treasury has been sacked, our reputation shattered and our military seriously weakened. No forseeable outcome in Iraq, even the most optimistic, will ever justify this cost. Buying the gleeful Weekly Standard line that it's all going well now and Bush will be vindicated is a gigantic error in perspective and judgement - to say the least.

Posted by: Winston on November 1, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Supposedly electricity is now above pre-war levels. But what is the status of infrastructure in the country? A lot of future insurgency activities could focus on that.

I am not fond of the maquiladoras on our border or the sweatshops in China. But I did think that something we should have done in Afghanistan after we had chased the Taliban away was to set up free trade zones and to get Nike, the GAP, etc., to go over there and start well, start maquiladoras and "sweatshops". Kinder, gentler "sweatshops", run by the locals, trading with the world.

I think that's an important component of reducing the violence in Iraq. A jobs program, a Marshall plan.

Our Democratic leadership failed to stop the war. If violence is down that's a great thing, but we should be the ones to try and get free or fair trade boot strapped with Iraq in an effort to reduce poverty and violence there and bring them into the society of nations.

Hell, they can paint lead onto toys as easily as our most favored trading partners.

Posted by: jerry on November 1, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

What no one - right or left - seems to get is that even if violence goes down to zero, and even if there is "political reconciliation" in Iraq, the war will still have been a total disaster, and one of the worst strategic mistakes in U.S. history. Posted by: Winston

What do you mean no one on the left understands this? I guess that means I've misunderstood where probably 50 or more regular posters here stand on the issue and misinterpreted Paul Krugman, Eric Alterman, Frank Rich, Todd Gitman, Atrios, Larry Johnson, James Fallows, my local member of the House, etc., etc.

Posted by: JeffII on November 1, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff, a fair point - obviously overly evenhanded hyperbole on my part. But for "left," I'm really referring to posts like the one we're commenting on, attempting to make the proverbial silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Posted by: winston on November 1, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

1. Ethnicly cleanse neighborhoods.

2. Imprison them in blast wall ghettos.

3. Make friends with the enemy.

4. Keep U.S. soldiers on bases & use bombs instead.

Yep, sounds like a real success to me.

Posted by: eCAHNomics on November 1, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

what really matters is the same thing that's always mattered: political reconciliation, infrastructure rebuilding, and economic progress.

Yeah, as if those things ever mattered to the Cheney administration.

Posted by: craigie on November 1, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

jerry, But what is the status of infrastructure in the country? A lot of future insurgency activities could focus on that.

The infrastructure has been a target of the insurgents from shortly after the invasion. The news talked about the attacks with casualties (rightly so) but the majority of the attacks have been on electric power delivery, oil pipelines, gasoline tanker trucks, etc. Some of the attacks are insurgents, some are criminal power plays, hard to tell the difference.

The dam is indicative of the money the Iraqi government is not spending on sustaining the infrastructure. See the SIGIR Sec. 2207 reports from 10/31/2005 onwards. Bowen discusses this issue quite often. It's partly an issue of spending but more an issue of qualified people who have fled.

Donald, Operation Market Garden was in Sept. of 1944, IIRC, well before winter. Not that it's relevant but I always found it interesting that according to Speer, German war production peaked in 1944 despite the intensive bombing campaign. MacNamara said in "The Fog of War" that had the Axis won WWII, guys like LeMay and "Bomber" Harris would have been executed as war criminals.

Posted by: TJM on November 1, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

mhr: "*"

Oops! See ya!

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 1, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Hurrah! The war is over.

The boys are on their way home, and I guess GWB won't be needing that extra $200 billion after all.

Posted by: MikeKC on November 1, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

LOL! Not even liberals can blind their eye of reality now.

Posted by: egbert on November 1, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

While the casualty reports are good news, what really matters is the same thing that's always mattered: political reconciliation, infrastructure rebuilding, and economic progress. Maybe a few more months of reduced violence will pave the way for this, but so far we've seen nada, as Ned Parker's piece makes clear.

For this, I'll be abusing you in the style of an illiterate seventh-grader later tonight. First I have to go to the officers' club and have a few belts to sharpen my writing.

Posted by: Col. Steve Boylan on November 1, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

"...But Iraqi government figures obtained today indicate that .....The number of Iraqis killed in insurgent and sectarian attacks rose in October, according to government figures obtained on Thursday, in a blow to a nine-month-old US troop surge policy....At least 887 Iraqis were killed last month, compared to 840 in September, according to the data compiled by the interior, defence and health ministries...."

"...The rise in deaths in October illuminates how the administration is blindly pushing claims that it is gaining “momentum” in Iraq, ignoring the volatility that is still pervasive despite Bush’s “crackdown....”

http://thinkprogress.org/2007/11/01/bush-october-violence/

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on November 1, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose this is a HOORAH for BLACKWATER, who happens to be Bush and Cheneys HENCHMEN, yey right, tell me some more lies with your numbers. This administration is the worst since Nixon only they are for worse than Nixon could have ever been.

Posted by: Al on November 1, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

who is it that generates the stats that you refer to?

bushit's usg.

don't believe anything they tell you. all lies.

Posted by: albertchampion on November 1, 2007 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

but so far we've seen nada

OH, cut it out. there is a distinction between "nothing" and "disappointing". Electricity production exceeds prewar levels by 50%; GDP is booming in large sections of Iraq. The government was elected and the next election is scheduled for early 2009.

Caveats? sure. Drop the nihilism.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on November 2, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

junebug: nearly half of Germans approve attacks on those bases.

its actually worse than that..

check out the NHK-BBC-ABC poll from September-2007 ...

57% of Iraqi's approve of attacks on americans in iraq..

oh..and gwb's new friends...the sunni's?

92% of sunni's approve of attacks on americans in iraq..

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/10_09_07_iraqpoll.pdf

gotta have friends...

Posted by: mr. irony on November 2, 2007 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever. This is good news in a narrow sense. Our invasion of Iraq remains the worst foreign policy decision in US history, and George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld should still be tried as war criminals. This war should never, ever have been started; It has accomplished the opposite of securing US interests and has cost us dearly.

For the US to feel good that the civilian body count is down is like the perpetrator of a violent crime feeling good that some of his surviving victims have been downgraded from critical to stable.

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 2, 2007 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

two points:

1. Has it occurred to anyone else that the "Anbar Awakening" -- where we funnel money to the tribes and they don't attack us -- is basically a protection racket?

2. Also re: the "Awakening," I read an article a little while ago that suggested Al Qaeda's appeal in Iraq was primarily to lower class Sunnis long frozen out of the traditional Baathist and local tribal power structures. To the extent the tribes turned on them, it was basically a matter of them putting their "trailer trash" back in its place. They had gotten out of hand and were no longer needed as foot soldiers since the sheiks, like the Marines, had decided we had lost the province and we were willing to pay the aforementioned protection money just to get our casualties down.

We're getting played like a piano over there.

Posted by: greg on November 2, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Electricity production exceeds prewar levels by 50%"

Cite, please?

"GDP is booming in large sections of Iraq."

In Kurdistan only, I believe, which is largely irrelevant to the civil war.

"The government was elected and the next election is scheduled for early 2009."

What does have to do with, well, anything?

Is this really the best you can do, Matthew? You're just proving our point.

Posted by: PaulB on November 2, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

... how much is due to the fact that sectarian cleansing has been pretty successful and there are very few mixed neighborhoods left in Baghdad

A question for those who support the theory that the drop in violence is because ethnic cleansing is more or less complete:

1. How many mixed neighborhoods were there and how many remain?

2 Was there a sharp reduction in mixed neighborhood right before the sharp drop in Iraqi deaths?

More generally, what eividence is there to support that theory?

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 2, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Well, ex-human, the GAO says it's so. That good enough for ya?

No, of course not - The partisan hacks there aren't telling you what you want to hear, so reject it.

Dipshit.

Posted by: Volatile Compound on November 2, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Volatile Compound - can you please supply a link to the GAO statement?

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 2, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Google it yourself, you mentally challenged dipshit. Is that beyond your ability?!?

We're not here to spoonfeed morons whose mission in it is to shamelessly spread propaganda and blather on this blog.

Try "GAO" "Iraq" and "sectarian cleansing" in Google news and see what you don't find there.

Posted by: trex on November 2, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Concur without reservation to everything trex just said, but I happen to have the actual report handy. As with all GAO reports, it is in .pdf format.

Posted by: Volatile Compound on November 2, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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