September 3, 2007

Civilian Deaths in Iraq Are Up, But They're Really Down

Hatched by Dafydd

I have a difficult argument to make. Your natural impulse may be to roll your eyes and accuse me of special pleading... but one's first impulse is often naive.

AP reports, with much fanfare and not a little gloating, that "civilian deaths rose" from 1,760 in July to 1,809 in August. AP's explicit conclusion is that this is a terrible setback for the counterinsurgency:

Civilian deaths rose in August to their second-highest monthly level this year, according to figures compiled Saturday by The Associated Press. That raises questions about whether U.S. strategy is working days before Congress receives landmark reports that will decide the course of the war.

But they embargo a critical fact until later in the article, a point that makes all the difference to their central thesis: The August total includes the huge triple-bombing on August 14th that killed 520 Yazidis (AP's count). The attack occurred far away from the counterinsurgency forces, up in Kurdistan on the Syrian border.

Were it not for that single incident, the civilian death toll would have dropped to 1,289, by far the lowest level this year. So what looks to the naive eye like bad news is, in fact, very good news; the situation is complex and you cannot use a simplistic metric.

Here is where Democrats would doubtless scream foul; but you cannot logically expect that U.S. forces in one part of the country will be able to stop suicide bombings in a completely different part of the country two hundred miles away. When the counterinsurgency expands into Mosul, then will be the time to ask whether we're decreasing the violence there. Until then, the question is not what's happening outside the counterinsurgency but what is happening inside it.

And it was an anomalous attack: Nothing like it had been done before, and it's not likely to be repeated anytime soon. By analogy, suppose you decide you must decrease your monthly expenses. In January, you took home $4,000 and you spend $3,900; in February you spent $3,700; in March it was $3,500. By July, your expenses are down to $3,000.

But then in August, your car's transmission seizes up, and it costs $1,200 to replace it. Your total expenses that month are $3,700; should you wail and moan because you're right back up to where you were in February? No, just the opposite: You should revel in the fact that, were it not for the unexpected car-repairs, you would have spent only $2,500 in August -- a big decrease from July and a huge drop from January.

The $1,200 in car repairs was not a regular expense... it was a one-shot that more than likely will not recur in September and later months. It's absurd to treat it as if it were a harbinger for a massively higher spending in subsequent months.

Getting back to the Iraq death toll, even the 1,809 figure is well below the deaths in November (1,967) and December (2,172), as is the worst month this year, May (1,901). Alas, I cannot find a link to AP's casualty count; but looking at Iraq Coalition Casualties' count of civilian deaths, August (1,598) is only the fifth deadliest month this year, behind (in decreasing order of death toll) February (2,864), March (2,762), May (1,782), and January (1,711): Different counts yield different numbers.

Taking the freakish Yazidi attack out of the equation, the August figure of 1,098 would be the lowest death toll since July 2006, more than a year ago.

To get almost offensively pedantic, considering that we're talking about human lives, the mean average for the first three months of 2007 was 2,445.67. August -- even with the Yazidi bombings -- was 35% below the early average; without the anomalous bombings, it's 55% below the early average.

This is hardly the picture of a "U.S. strategy" that has failed, is in disarray, or is even questionable; rather, it's exactly what a successful counterinsurgency strategy looks like: continued decreasing violence overall (the month to month may fluctuate, especially in response to individual acts of terrorism) -- with the worst violence being pushed outside the area in which we are fighting.

Then, as we succeed in pacifying more areas (such as Anbar and Baghdad), we will expand the counterinsurgency into areas like northwestern Mosul, where the Yazidis were hit.

There are several other nuggets of good news sprinkled through this article ("interred" would be more accurate). First, the Mahdi Militia -- called Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM -- is losing some of its charm:

Many Shiites see the militia as their best protection against Sunni extremists, including al-Qaida, which have carried out similar attacks on Shiites.

However, Mahdi's credibility has been shaken by allegations of extortion, murder, robbery and other crimes committed by members who appear to be beyond the control of the youthful [Muqtada] al-Sadr, who said he would use the six-month hiatus to restructure the force "in a way that helps honor the principles for which it was formed."

Second, we appear to finally have a clue about the value of wartime propaganda, in this case directed against the "special groups" of the JAM; that is, those elements that are sucking from the Iranian udder:

Leaflets scattered around Sadr City urged people to report on Shiite militants who are cooperating with the Iranians, providing a cell phone number and an e-mail address for people to make anonymous tips.

"The criminal Iraqis who work with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are toys under Persian control," read one of the leaflets, which pictured a puppet dancing on strings. "Iranian Revolutionary Guards are interfering in Iraq's affairs while Iraqis are dying."

An excellent start; coupled with our stunning and continuing ascendency over al-Qaeda in Iraq, I'd have to say the war is going better than we have been told even by the White House. President Bush appears to be underselling our achievements there, perhaps giving the Democrats enough rope to tie themselves into a Gordian knot by November 2008.

Good news can be found most anywhere, if you're willing to spelunk for it.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 3, 2007, at the time of 7:53 PM

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The following hissed in response by: ShoreMark

Good news can be found most anywhere, if you're willing to spelunk for it.

I went spelunking back in the day, and still do virtually in the vein you mean, but the vocabulary/spelling challenged teachers have long ago decreed that spelunking is to be called "caving."

Sadly, a more telling dumbing down effort is hard to imagine.

The above hissed in response by: ShoreMark [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 3, 2007 8:46 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I'm beginning to truly hate that word, "caving." Not because it's non-descriptive, but because it's all too apt!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2007 1:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/04/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2007 9:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

The problem is that thoughtful analysis is something that many people will not recognize, nor believe. Instead of examining issues, they examine them in the light of their own political agenda and if either the facts or analysis doesn't fit their agenda, then those facts or analysis are ignored. It is not your shiny scales that keeps me reading this blog, but analysis such as this is what keeps me coming back. Well said, but I fear it will do little good. The "Reality Crowd" will never accept reality.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2007 9:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

I'd go one step further.

The attack on the Yazidis was a desperate attempt to keep the numbers up. It could not be accomplished in any area where the the coalition is active.

The Yazidi attack was perpetrated with the expectation that the western media would not distinguish between it and other attacks on civilians. AP obliges the terrorists by not reporting the facts properly, which of course encourages further attacks of this type.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2007 10:01 AM

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