Sunday, June 18, 2006

Progress in Iraq: A Look at Some Indicators

Hopes for ultimate victory in Iraq certainly got a boost from the Zarqawi elimination. Yet, President Bush was careful not to inflate expectations, and with good reason. The U.S. has a difficult job ahead in defeating the insurgency, and progress as measured by a set of objective indicators over time is more halting in some areas than others. Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who provides regular statistical updates on the Iraq situation, published his most recent version in the New York Times on Friday. The update is also available on O'Hanlon's Brookings webpage. Here's his summary:

After his surprise trip to Baghdad this week, President Bush struck a hopeful tone. "I do think we'll be able to measure progress," he declared at a news conference on Wednesday. "You can measure progress in capacity of Iraqi units ... in megawatts of electricity delivered ... in oil sold on the market .... There's ways to determine whether or not this government's plans are succeeding." We agree. Unfortunately, according to our latest tally of metrics (compiled from a variety of government and news media sources), Iraq has a long way to go. To be successful, the new Iraqi government will have to do things that its predecessors and the United States have generally failed to accomplish. Violence on the whole is as bad as ever. Sectarian strife is worse than ever. The economy has slowly come back to prewar levels for the most part, but is now treading water. As a result, optimism has waned. According to an International Republican Institute poll conducted in late March, more than 75 percent of Iraqis consider the security environment to be poor and the economy poor or mediocre. Those looking for signs of promise in Iraq can still find footholds beyond the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The security forces, particularly the Iraqi Army, continue to improve in technical proficiency — even if their interethnic cohesiveness remains suspect. Reductions in consumer subsidies have strengthened the financial standing of the government, and high oil prices compensate for Iraq's anemic production levels. But overall, it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full.
Take a look at the table for yourself: While civilian deaths and bombings are up, U.S. troop fatalities are down, as are those for the Iraqi armed forces and police. Plus, the number of the Iraqi defense and constabulary forces has tripled since this time last year. The economy hasn't changed much over the last twelve months, but individual data (like the more than doubling of the telephone subscribers since last year) is very encouraging. Also more than doubling is the number of Iraqi civilians providing intelligence data to coalition forces (up to 4,400 from 1,700 over the last year)! Note one more thing: O'Hanlon usually gives the "glass half-empty" interpretation, and in previous updates he nearly came out saying the U.S. would lose to the insurgency. For my addtional posts on progress in Iraq, see these Burkean entries covering updates from Power Line, Victor Hanson, Amir Taheri, and the Charleston Post and Courier.

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