Sunday, September 02, 2007

Iraqi Civilian Deaths as Surge Progress Indicator?

In a report yesterday, Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times wrote that war-related civilian fatalities in Iraq increased for a second month in a row, and the increasing numbers demonstrated the Bush administration's surge strategy had proved ineffective in stemming terrorist violence.

Needless to say, Susman's slanted journalism got
signifcant play in the top-dog, hard-left blogosphere. War opponents - increasingly desperate to paint the war as hopelessly lost - seized on passages like this:

Bombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen, according to government figures obtained Friday.

In July, the civilian death toll was 1,753, and in June it was 1,227. The numbers are based on morgue, hospital and police records and come from officials in the ministries of Health, Defense and the Interior. The statistics appear to indicate that the increase in troops ordered by President Bush this year has done little to curb civilian bloodshed, despite U.S. military statements to the contrary.
But if one continues reading Susman's article, the piece indicates that there's little consensus among the U.S. military and outside monitoring groups on the efficacy of civilian death totals as an indicator of the progress on the troop surge:

Military officials have said the security plan is showing progress because the number of attacks on civilians has decreased and sectarian killings have dropped. The security plan, which began in February, has put an additional 28,500 U.S. troops in Baghdad and other trouble spots.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, is expected to cite such indicators when he presents an assessment of the security plan to Congress this month.

The U.S. military says the numbers it gathers are lower than those provided by Iraqi ministries, but it does not release them. But it has said that the monthly civilian death toll from sectarian killings, which do not include all bombings, has dropped to about 1,000 per month from 1,200 per month early this year.
Read the whole article. As is the case with earlier Susman articles, she spins her reports with misleading titles and leads.

The following passage is in fact one of the most significant of the article, and it should have formed the basis for a more objective overview of the difficulties of measuring gains in security on the ground:

Various factors can skew the numbers. Baghdad, usually the most violent part of the country, experienced a four-day curfew in June after the bombing of a key Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of the capital. Other cities also were under curfews, which helped keep violence at bay.
Please recall that we're talking about gross statistics on the tragic loss of human life. Thus it's somewhat unfortunate that troubling data like this is being spun by war opponents whose ultimate concern is destroying the Republican war machine in Washington, not the human rights of the Iraqi people.

The stakes are extremely how now, of course, with the highly-anticipated release of the Petraeus Report next week. Thus, any bit of news construed as favorable to the increasingly fanatical antiwar left (see
here, here, here) needs to be dissected and placed in the overall context of the slow but difficult job of consolidating Iraqi security and bolstering Iraq's rough steps toward democratization.

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