Civilian deaths in Iraq decline

and why you haven’t heard

According to the New York Times, civilian deaths in Baghdad are at an all-time high, marking the failure of the Baghdad security plan launched by the al-Maliki government, and the descent of Iraq into civil war.

But according to Iraq’s national security minister Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the sectarian violence peaked in mid-July, and has declined sharply since then, indicating the success of the security plan.

The first viewpoint has been promulgated in most metropolitan dailies, all the broadcast networks, and on CNN and MSNBC.  (FOX News has actually presented both contentions, although with scant detail.)

We dug up the second viewpoint in the Malaysia Star, August 22, 2006.  It is not readily available to consumers of American media.  But the underlying data – the civilian death toll — is accessible via the internet.  Civilian deaths are falling rapidly, as al-Rubaie contends, not spiraling out of control, as the New York Times implies.

The viewpoints
In the Aug. 15, 2006 NYT, Edward Wong and Damien Cave wrote:

July appears to have been the deadliest month of the war for Iraqi civilians, according to figures from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, reinforcing criticism that the Baghdad security plan started in June by the new Iraqi government has failed.

In the Aug. 22, 2006 Malaysia Star, John Chambers wrote:

He [National Security Minister al-Rubaie] challenged the notion that violence was out of control in the Iraqi capital, saying it had peaked last month.  “The surge was only until mid-July,” he said.  “The number of attacks is down from mid-July by 45 percent and extra-judicial murders… are down 35 percent since mid-July.  We’re there, we’re definitely on the mend.”

Look who agrees with al-Rubaie…
The two most meticulous English-language sources on Iraqi civilian casualties are maintained by Leftwing opponents of the Iraq War.
www.icasualties.org and www.iraqbodycount.net

These websites list every “war-related” civilian death reported by the international press corps in Iraq.  The sites can be faulted for attributing certain crime-related deaths to the war.  But they cannot be faulted for failing to document their sources.  “IraqBodyCount” goes a step further, noting contradictions between the highest and lowest death-reports associated with a given incident.  The site maintains a simultaneous running tally of the “maximum” and “minimum” casualties reported.

In July, icausalties.org reported 1063 civilian casualties.  In the first 22 days of August, icasualties reports 593 civilian casualties.  Extrapolated for a full month, this would yield a net August death-decrease of 21.4%.

But that isn’t the whole story.  Comparing the first 11 days of August against the second 11 days, there has been a hefty relative drop.  Using the icausualty.org numbers, we find that Iraqi civilian casualties, Aug. 12-Aug. 22, declined 25.1% from early August.

This is significant because coalition tactics in Baghdad changed on August 9th   Prior to that time, the government attempted to control the movement of terrorists and incendiary ordnance through a series of check points.  This system worked very well in the Kurdish North, where the Peshmerga militia has brought terrorist attacks to a grinding halt.
But the key to the Kurdish anti-terror checkpoints is the Kurdish language.  Kurds are not interested in perpetrating acts of terror.  The Peshmerga militia keep terrorists out by excluding, or grilling, anyone who doesn’t speak fluent Kurdish.  In other words, they PROFILE.

This doesn’t work in Baghdad, with its ethnically and linguistically mixed population.  The New York Times authors, Cave and Wong, described the breakdown of the system:

The plan, much touted by top Iraqi and American officials at the time, relied on setting up more Iraqi-run checkpoints to stymie the movement by insurgents.  Those officials have since acknowledged the plan has fallen far short of its aims, forcing the American military to add thousands of soldiers to the capital this month…”

Precisely.  Starting August 9th, the government beefed up the security detail in Baghdad for a “clear and hold” operation called “Operation Forward Together.” Iraqi security forces took the lead, with coalition embeds providing professional advice and logistic support.  The most violent areas of Baghdad were targeted first, and each “cleared” area was garrisoned by a standing ISF presence.  “Clearing” meant hunting down the bad guys where they live, killing or arresting them, and confiscating their weapons stockpiles.

Committees of safety were organized across sectarian lines, often with the help of local imams and tribal leaders, to keep lines of communication open between the communities. The number of anti-terrorist tips promptly increased, allowing the ISF to focus on the gangs and individuals at the core of the problem.  Police presence reduced the civilian pressure for tit-for-tat killings.  The sectarian violence in Baghdad has NEVER been popular.

In a weird way, the difference between the two strategies recapitulated American arguments over the war on terror.  The first strategy – dependence on checkpoints – was defensive, and didn’t work.  The second – killing the bad guys where they live – paid immediate dividends.

Our question to the NYT…
Why are Edward Wong and Damien Cave reporting July news in mid-August?  Why are they savaging an abandoned policy that didn’t work very well, while ignoring an ongoing policy that is working?

Why are they allowing the editorial policy of the New York Times to interfere with real-time reporting on ongoing operations?

Civil war v. police action
A final irony of the failure of MSM to report strategy, tactics, and results in Operation Forward Together, launched two weeks ago, is that what the media has ignored is essentially a police action – precisely how the MSM wants to fight the “War on Terror.”  The guys slaughtering dozens of unarmed people at markets in Sadr City are not an army.  They have no government-in-exile, no territorial base.

They are simply criminal gangs that hire out to jihadi ideologues, local militias, or revenge-seeking tribal leaders – i.e., anyone who will pay them.  A dead giveaway that this is NOT a civil war is the continued decline in coalition casualties, despite the presence of more Americans embedded with the ISF at the center of the violence. 

We will report more fully on the results of Operation Forward Together at the end of this month.  In the meantime, we urge our readers to ignore the misrepresentations of MSM.  This operation is NOT the most difficult thing the coalition has undertaken.  And, after a shaky start, it is going rather well.

5 Responses to “Civilian deaths in Iraq decline”

  1. JSinger Says:

    Why are Edward Wong and Damien Cave reporting July news in mid-August?…Why are they allowing the editorial policy of the New York Times to interfere with real-time reporting on ongoing operations?

    Uhh, because August isn’t over and they’re reporting the most recent month for which full statistics are available? If you’re correct and there are real gains being made against terrorism, rather than just a lull between waves of attacks, that’s fantastic. But it hardly seems unethical of them not to choose the precise window of time you want them to use.

  2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Yes, their problem in this case is not MSM bias (though I suppose that could be in there), but MSM slowness. How soon we forget that even ten years ago we also would have regarded that information as “current, up-to-the-minute, breaking news.”

    And lots of NYT readers still think so.

  3. submandave Says:

    August isn’t over and they’re reporting the most recent month for which full statistics are available

    Yes, their problem in this case is not MSM bias [], but MSM slowness.

    In that case, then, should we expect in September to see similar NYT pieces on the success of anti-violence efforts in Baghdad? Call me jaded, but personal experience tells me to expect only crickets, especiall so near an election in which the “failures in Iraq” have been so promenantly positioned by the Democrats hoping to control take Congress.

  4. JSinger Says:

    “In that case, then, should we expect in September to see similar NYT pieces on the success of anti-violence efforts in Baghdad?”

    Probably not. (Putting aside the question of how much cutting cvilian deaths from 34 a day to 27 qualifies as “success”.) But perhaps we can table that discussion until we see where things actually stand in September or October?

    (BTW, how did you get the italics? Normal HTML didn’t work for me. I hate software that doesn’t let you preview…)

  5. Karl Says:

    The NYT picks and chooses whatever statistics it wants to spin Iraq in the most negative light. US military deaths decline for 4 or 5 months straight? No story.

    Two bad weeks at the start of April, and the NYT cranks out a story speculating that this is the new trend. The paper did not wait for the end of the month, as JSinger suggests should be done.

    After a bad April, US military deaths declined every month, including July. The only mention of this in the NYT was a single sentence in a story last week about how the insurgency was getting stronger because it has launched more IED attacks from Jan-July. That story claimed that US wounded shot up during that time period. The numbers actually represented ends of a range that has existed for two years, and were lower than in late 2005. Moreover, though that story emphasized that most IED attacks are against US troops, the number of US dead overall, the number of US dead from IEDs, and the number of US wounded in Iraq all declined in the past 7 months relative to the last 7 months of 2005.

    The NYT uses a two week timeframe when it suits them, a seven month timeframe when it suits them, and makes no meaningful comparisons that would put their stats in context.

    BTW, JSinger is absolutely correct that a reduction in casualties is not necessarily a sign of success in a war. Certainly, when the Allies invaded at Normandy, the casualty rate shot up, but this was a sign of success. However, as the NYT seems to believe that the numbers of US dead and wounded are the only statistic by which to judge Iraq, a 20 percent drop in a short period of time would seem to qualify as progress… at least from the perspective of those who favor the US and Iraq.