Tuesday, October 2, 2007

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Blip or surge?

The Financial Times' Steve Negus offers some good news from Iraq. No, really:

The Iraqi government reported on Monday that civilian casualties dropped by more than 50 per cent in September, a month in which US casualties also declined to their lowest level in 14 months.

All estimates of civilian casualties are contentious, due to the difficulty of obtaining complete data from conflict zones scattered across the country as well as the danger that statistics will be politically manipulated.

But Septemberís drop is one of the most dramatic since the Iraqi government began releasing figures, and is in rough accordance with other data suggesting levels of violence may be dropping.

The apparent decline also comes in spite of Septemberís partial overlap with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which usually sees an increase in attacks by Sunni Arab militants. A tally provided by Iraqís health, interior and defence ministries quoted by news agencies noted 884 civilians killed in September, down from 1,773 in August, 1,653 in July and 1,227 in June.

The independent Iraq Body Count, which tallies press reports of civilian deaths, recorded higher numbers but showed a similar trajectory Ė 1,280 killed in September, 2,575 in August, 2,600 in July, and 2,092 in June.

US casualties also declined. Icasualties.org, a website which keeps a tally of US deaths, reported 63 fatalities in September, compared with 84 in August and 126 in May. Septemberís total is the lowest since July 2006.

posted by Dan on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM


Hmm. The usual counterargument to these observations is that they're symptomatic of the degree to which ethnic cleansing has already been carried out. If there are no more [insert disliked subpopulation] in the immediate area, levels of internecine violence are bound to decline.

The larger problem I have with this sort of reporting is that it doesn't actually give the reader any insight into the processes that are taking place within the Iraqi population, which remain opaque to me. While a 50% drop in deaths is very heartening on the surface, I'm not sure how much we can meaningfully deduce from it.

posted by: Troll on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

Anyone consider the fact that Ramadan started on 9/13 and that might have an impact? It would be worthwhile to compare the numbers for other years during Ramadan and see if there were similar declines.

posted by: Randy Paul on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

From the article:

"The apparent decline also comes in spite of Septemberís partial overlap with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which usually sees an increase in attacks by Sunni Arab militants."

posted by: kwo on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

One would like to believe that a few such months of reduced violence would represent a splendid opportunity to declare victory and terminate this adventure.

posted by: Zathras on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

The calm before the storm? Sorry for the pessimism but I find it hard to believe that this is going to last long.

posted by: Fiona on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

Among the things said above, I think one of the most significant factors is Muqtada Sadr's 6 month cease fire. He did this to reorganize his units into a more unified and disciplined force. When they come back on the scene, I hope they are able to better attack American forces and I hope the American deaths will go back up until the American occupiers leave.

posted by: Joe M. on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

Yeah, Joe, I'm sure that a takeover of Iraq by al-Sadr and his allies will lead to a bright new era for the country. That said, I also have tremendous difficulty seeing how we could stop it.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

I would sure be curious to see your take on these two rather less encouraging reports:



posted by: Robert Bell on 10.02.07 at 10:23 AM [permalink]

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