Pentagon data reveal grim reality of “surge” —and “resistance”

Juan Cole‘s Informed Comment blog Sept. 24 has an enlightening commentary on a Sept. 20 AP story about the Pentagon’s latest report to Congress on supposed “progress” in Iraq. Cole writes that the report, entitled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” “has two graphics that should make us very suspicious about all the declarations that the troop escalation or ‘surge’ has significantly reduced violence in Iraq… The first graph shows average daily casualties (dead and wounded badly enough to go to hospital) by month in Iraq.” This graph indicates that such casualties have (if you will) surged from just over 50 in January 2006 to just shy of 150 in August 2007, with a slight dip in June of this year. In nearly every month, “Coalition Forces” is the smallest category, “Iraqi Security Forces” the next largest, and “Civilians” the big majority. Writes Cole:

This graph shows that there was no significant reduction in daily casualties in Iraq this summer. June saw a dip, mainly in civilian Iraqi casualties; coalition and Iraqi security force casualties were as bad as ever. Since the reduction in civilian casualties was not sustained, it is not significant, and could just have been a fluke (a few car bombs in markets failed to kill as many people as usual, e.g.) Somewhere around 150 persons continued to be killed or wounded every single day according to this chart, with a very minor daily reduction in the hot months of the summer when it is harder to fight.

The second graph gives the number of attacks per month. Notes Cole: “Obviously, a lot of attacks produce no casualties. Mortars land uselessly in the desert, e.g.” Here, in contrast, “Attacks Targeting Coalition Forces” are the big majority each month, with the remainder split about evenly between “Attacks Targeting Iraqi Security Forces” and “Attacks Targeting Civilians.” There is an obvious explanation for the discrepancy between the two graphs. Someone taking a pot-shot at a US soldier at a checkpoint counts as an “attack,” even if he misses his mark. Whereas a market-place bomb that kills 20 Iraqi civilians also counts as a single “attack.”

Cole masterfully deconstructs the propaganda of an effective “surge”:

This [second] graph shows that with regard to attacks May and June (when the ‘surge’ was well under way) were two of the most violent months ever since the US occupation of Iraq began. The June average was 177.8, the highest ever seen. July was more like the violent fall-winter 2006 than it was like the slightly less violent summer.

The graph does show a reduction in attacks for August, but what I notice is that the reduction in attacks did not come with regard either to Iraqi civilians or Iraqi security personnel, which seem the same height as previous months. The only significant reduction for August was with regard to attacks on coalition forces. (Since troop casualties do not seem to have been down very much for August, this statistic suggests that there were fewer attacks but they were more deadly. That is not good news.)

The Pentagon is trying to give us the impression that August was a ‘trend’, but statistically that is silly, since it was just one month and what came before it was pretty horrible. The dip in attacks in August does not seem to have come with much of a dip in casualties, in any case. And if all that is happening is that fewer US troops are being attacked, but similar numbers are being wounded or killed, I’m not sure that is even significant. Since some of the attacks were on the British in the south, changes in the way they were deployed could have had a small impact on these statistics.

The Pentagon tells us that violence in Baghdad is back down to the levels of summer, 2006. But whether that is true or not, the generalization cannot be made for Iraq, by the Pentagon’s own statistics. If you do a three-month rolling average for months prior to September, whether you look at numbers of attacks or numbers of casualties, there has not been a significant improvement with regard to violence in the country as a whole.

That is indeed the message in these figures that mainstream America needs to hear. However, there is another message here that certain elements of the anti-war movement need to hear—such as Troops Out Now!, which states: “It is time for the antiwar movement to acknowledge the absolute and unconditional right of the Iraqi people to resist the occupation of their country without passing judgment on their methods of resistance. Even the founding charter of the United Nations clearly affirms the right of an occupied people to resist by force of arms.”

The UN charter does not affirm the right of an occupied people to massively kill each other on the basis of their religious affiliation. These sectors of what we call the idiot left refuse to acknowledge that the Iraq conflict is now first and foremost a sectarian civil war, and only secondarily a “resistance” struggle. Idiot left elements have intentionally misconstrued Pentagon data before. In October 2005, we dissected a piece by another idiot left faction, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), cheering on the Iraqi “resistance” and attempting to absolve it of massively targeting civilians. The ISO, we wrote:

…touts the findings of Anthony Cordesman, top wonk at Washington’s elite Center for Strategic and International Studies, who assembled a report from Pentagon data, “The Developing Iraqi Insurgency: Status at End—2004.” But the ISO picks from the data selectively to make its case. The sleight-of-hand relies on an obfuscatory distinction between “targeting” and “killing” civilians. Table 1 in the Cordesman report indicates more than 3,000 attacks in which coalition forces were the target and only 180 in which civilians were the target—but it also indicates around 2,000 civilians killed and nearly 3,500 wounded, with only around 450 coalition forces killed and 1,000 wounded in the same period. [ISO] doesn’t mention these numbers.

Similarly, we anticipate that idiot leftists will isolate the second of the two graphs Cole cites to absolve the “resistance” of sectarian slaughter—without providing the first graph. This is a sleazy trick, but it will be done. Count on it.

The most criminal thing about this denial on the American left is that there really is a legitimate civil resistance struggle in Iraq that urgently needs our solidarity. Supporting the armed insurgents constitutes a betrayal of this struggle. As we wrote in 2005:

Posing the question in terms of the abstract “right to resist” is an obfuscation. At a certain point you have to look at the question of who is actually wielding the guns and bombs, and at whom. In this case, the criminal tactics of mass murder are directly tied to the totalitarian ideology of “political Islam.” These are the very forces which seek to exterminate Iraq’s secular left, along with their perceived ethno-religious enemies.

See our last posts on Iraq, and the politics of escalation and insurgency.

  1. Petraeus acknowledges Ramadan offensive
    From the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 29:

    BAGHDAD — Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, acknowledged today that violence had increased since Sunni Arab militants declared an offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

    “Certainly Al Qaeda has had its Ramadan surge,” Petraeus said in his first comments to reporters since he returned from Washington to give lawmakers a status report on the war in Iraq. But he said the level of attacks was “substantially lower” than during the same period last year.

    Oh? The Pentagon graphs discussed above only show data through August, just before the start of Ramadan. But they indicate the level of attacks is no lower (much less substantially lower) since the surge than in the same period last year. Attacks in August ’07 were somewhat less than in August ’06. But the reverse is true of July and June.

    Yet the LAT’s sub-head says Petraeus “notes”—rather than “claims”—that attacks have dropped.

    Isn’t it obvious to the media yet that this guy is cooking the books?