Counting in Iraq
Things are getting more Orwellian as the day of the Petraeus/Crocker report arrives. Juan Cole on his much-read blog has complained about Administration statements regarding American casualties and encouraged bloggers to do what they can to bring out the truth. Since there are new developments, another month having passed, I shall do my bit.
This is what Tony Snow said two days ago at the White House:
"The real question that people have is, what's going on Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact? The answer is yes. There's no question about it. What you've had is the number of ethnic and religious sectarian killings down by 75 percent. You have a doubling of weapons cache seizures. You have a reduction in bombing violence, in bombing killings of U.S. and coalition forces. There have been a number of -- you have kills and captures way up when it comes to those who have been fighting against the government."
Beginning with Iraqi deaths, we have two sets of figures. The Administration provides some, and the website icasualties.org, the source for all my data, provides others, combining Iraqi security forces and civilians. Their figures are based upon press accounts and, as they bluntly admit, are surely low. Here is what they show for Iraqi civilian deaths over the last year and a half.
Now these figures confirm that things are not at their worst--during last August and September and again in February and March, Iraqi deaths were in the 3000 per month range. Even if we bias our calculation to the maximum extent, however, and compare the worst month (September 2006) to the best recent month (June), we do not arrive at the 75% reduction to which Snow referred. And in fact, these killings are still around 50% higher than they were in the first half of 2006--surely a rather bizarre definition of "progress?" And over this weekend, after I drafted this post, a series of new and escalating figures for August civilian deaths have appeared, now topping 2000.
Snow's statements about reduced American deaths are even more bizarre. Here are the last year's figures for them.
Last month I questioned whether the July figures really showed a downward trend. With August in the same range as July, it looks as if we are in a new phase--or rather, that the particularly intense phase of combat that began along with the surge in April and lasted three months seems to be over. It would seem that, particularly in May, American troops must have stormed quite a few hostile areas, much as they did in Fallujah in November 2004 as soon as the presidential election was over, in the costliest month of the war (141 dead.) Now casualties are back down somewhat--to the level they were at in the first three months of 2007, before the surge began. When one adds in the wounded--a very complex process, since weekly and monthly figures on icasualties.org don't seem to match perfectly--the picture is even murkier. Thus, as I pointed out earlier, although coalition KIA fell by 20 from June to July, American wounded rose during July from 609 to 655, with the increase divided evenly between those who returned to duty within 48 hours and those who did not. So far August wounded are reported at 558, the lowest figure since before the surge.
Tony Snow did not mention the increased rate of internally displaced persons in Iraq. He did, however, do something else administration spokesmen have begun to do--he cited the enemy body count of increased dead and (see last week's post) detained insurgents. Of course, as in Vietnam, we will never know how many of them actually are insurgents--or how many were insurgents before they were detained, instead of after. But the idea that the surge is decreasing Iraqi and American casualties does not seem to be true--at least not yet.