What’s Really Happening in Iraq?

On Martini Revolution, Alex tells us what the Bush administration wants us to hear: “[We]’ve taken a 180 degree turn in Iraq from bad to good, even though most conservative narratives never conceded that it was bad in the first place.” Could it be that, after 32,000 casualties and more than $462 billion, this is finally turning into the cakewalk they always wanted?

Happy war cake

According to Reuters, the Iraqi Interior Ministry claims that violence in that country is down 70 percent since the end of June. At the same time, the Department of Defense reports a decline in American casualties compared to 2006.

Predictably, our friends on the right Frank Staheli, Matthias, and others who get their news from Michael Yon have been triumphantly pointing to the supposed turn-around. Also, there’s a piece in The Onion parodying all the dizzy upbeat spinning (using fake quotes, of course, because it’s The Onion):

“This just shows that we are getting to a point where things here aren’t absolutely appalling and are now consistently just god- awful,” U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus said. “And that’s great.”

In truth, by some measures in some places things have improved since 2006 (bearing in mind that 2006 was the worst year of the occupation so far). By other measures, 2007 has been bloodier and more discouraging. The U.S. troop escalation predictably intensified the violence in parts of Baghdad and Diyala Province, for example. In southern Iraq, there are four Shiite militias at war with one another as the British withdraw to Kuwait. The Kurdish PKK terrorist group is at war with Turkey. The Iraqi religious civil war between Shia and Sunni rages on. In fact, it is only late October and already more US troops have been killed in Iraq in 2007 than in all of 2006. And the occupation of Iraq is costing $400 million a day.

Item: 2007 has been marked by an increased use of air strikes and artillery targeted on civilian areas. Coalition forces launched 1,140 air strikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics. Currently, they are calling in up to 70 air strikes a day.

Rear Admiral Greg Smith told the New York Times, “We do not target civilians…. But when our forces are fired upon, as they are routinely, then they have no option but to return fire.” He added, “The enemy has a vote here, and when he chooses to surround himself with civilians and then fire upon US forces, our forces have no choice but to return a commensurate amount of fire.”

That indiscriminate air attacks can be defended as commensurate reveals much about the thinking of US military planners, whose views are not shared by most Iraqis. “Where can anybody be safe from Bush’s democracy?” one surviving relative, whose pregnant cousin was killed, told the Washington Post. “Whenever we want to open a new chapter with the Americans, to forget the past and try all over again, they drag us into violence, weapons and fighting again.”

Item: Insurgent sniper attacks have quadrupled in the past year. But the Defense Department buried this information in the FY 2008 war supplemental funding request:

The dangers from enemy sniper attacks have increased steadily during the past year, with the number of attacks quadrupling. These attacks have not only caused numerous casualties, but have had an adverse psychological effect on both Coalition forces and the Iraqi civilian populace. Victims in sniper incidents have a fatality rate of over 70 percent. A shift in enemy tactics that increases the number of sniper attacks could potentially inflict even more casualties than IEDs.

Item: This has been the worst year for mass casualty bombings, according to Iraq Body Count– double the rate for last year.

Early indications are that roughly 20,000 violent civilian deaths will be recorded for the first 9 months of 2007. By year’s end, 2007 looks to be the second-worst calendar year for violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, trailing only behind 2006, and still almost twice as deadly for civilians as the first year.

One measure by which 2007 quickly exceeded 2006 was in major ground-based bombing attacks which killed more than 50 civilians (and sometimes far more). Throughout all of 2006 there were 12 such attacks. … As of this writing, there have been 20 such attacks in 2007, claiming well over 2,000 civilian lives, with the worst-ever of these attacks occurring in August and killing over 500.

When President Bush declares that “we’re kicking ass”, it doesn’t mean things are more peaceful. Check out Wikipedia for a thorough rundown of the casualty situation in Iraq.

UPDATE: Cal Thomas waxes ecstatic on the recent partial downturn in violence in some parts of Iraq and suggests that it’s somehow bad for the Democrats.

If the United States and its coalition forces finish on top by achieving most, if not all, of their objectives in Iraq, what can the Democrats say?

That’s a mighty big if. What coalition forces? What are these supposed objectives? Let’s look at this logically. If the mission is force protection, we can accomplish that better by removing our forces from Iraq. If the mission is to reduce the overall level of violence in Iraq, the best way is to withdraw our forces. If the mission is to allow the Iraqis to establish a stable government free of the taint of foreign occupation, the only way to do that is end the occupation. And so forth and so on.

What is the reason to keep our troops in Iraq as targets for insurgents? So that President Bush can hand over the fiasco to the next administration without having to admit making the biggest blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy.

UPDATE: Juan Cole suggests the US military may be artificially keeping casualties down this fall by resorting to more aerial bombardment and limiting offensive operations.

UPDATE: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total cost of the Iraq fiasco to U.S. taxpayers will come to $1.9 trillion, including $564 billion in interest. This estimate does not include indirect economic costs, such as the increase in world oil prices. Back in 2003, the Bush administration estimated the “cakewalk” would cost no more than $50 billion.

UPDATE: According to USA Today, Pentagon sources have backtracked and now say that sniper attacks are down in Iraq.

In 2006, there were 386 sniper attacks on coalition forces, according to data from the Multi-National Force-Iraq headquarters in Iraq. Through Oct. 26 of this year, there were 269 sniper attacks, the figures show.

  1. #1 by Jeff on October 23, 2007 - 10:48 pm

    You should take a look at the Wounded Warriors Project. It raises awareness for severely wounded combat U.S. combat veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. It really puts a face on the cost of this war. Here’s a link:



  2. #2 by Nephi on October 24, 2007 - 9:17 am

    And, of course, our friends over at ASP are ejaculating all over themselves at the “news” – the surge is working, the surge is working … surge, surge, surge.


  3. #3 by Matthias on October 24, 2007 - 9:56 am

    It is instructive that you are trying to lump all of 2007 into the same statistical bag. Aggressive military techniques will inevitable result in rising casualties on all sides. Simply put: If you do more fighting, more people are going to die. The question is whether or not aggressive military techniques give way to a long term reduction in casualties. The number from recent months suggest that the answer is yes.

    By trying to lump all of 2007 together, you are essentially saying that we should ignore the last three months of data because the four months previous to that sucked. But the point being made in all these news reports is that the violence is on the decline. You can’t point to 6 months ago and say “No it isn’t!” It would be like me saying that, according to the weather reports from May, it looks like it’s going to get really hot soon. I would be ignoring the recent data for the simple reason that it doesn’t fit what I want to hear.

    But more important to this topic is the issue of sources. Which sources do you trust and which ones don’t you. And (most importantly) why? You have pointed (in this post and others) to numerous reports from multiple news sources when they said things were going badly. And then you say that they aren’t trustworthy when they say things are going well.

    Well, do you trust these sources or not? My suggestion is that you do trust these sources… when they tell you what you already believe. And you don’t trust them when they tell you what you don’t want to hear. In the end, your source of truth and trust is your own mind. Everything external to yourself that agrees with you is right and everything external to yourself that disagrees with you is wrong.

    Aligning the world to your own presuppositions… it’s very post-modern, I’ll give you that. But all you’ve done is announced yourself as the reigning god of all truth. Good luck with that.

  4. #4 by Richard Warnick on October 24, 2007 - 10:15 am

    You have it exactly backwards. I look at all sources of information and try to sort out what’s objectively credible, in the broadest possible context. General Petraeus and the Bush administration carefully cherry-pick stats that make things look better, for political purposes.

    What do you think the mission is in Iraq? If the main mission is force protection, why not move the forces somewhere safer?

  5. #5 by Danny on October 31, 2007 - 8:34 am

    You said, you look at all the facts and try to sort out what is most credible. Though you may be correct, you take your “facts” and twist them so you side with the insurgency. The problem is that you look at a situation and turn it against the US Military. Why, I don’t know. You said you were in the military years ago, you must have really been picked on.
    Do me a favor and humor me for a minute here.
    Say you were in during a war time. We don’t need to say what war or if you agree with it, just any war. You are with your troops and you start taking fire. You spot the enemy and there is no way to effectively destroy him because he has surrounded himself by innocent civilians. What do you do? Let him get away so he can kill more soldiers? And past that, go tell other enemy buddies of his that you let him go so attacks go up? Or do you take him out with the resources you have? Yes, obviously you want to minimize civilian casualties, but unfortunately we are at war, and people get killed. I am not saying that I condone civilian casualties. I am just saying that it is a sad truth that it happens and there is no way any soldier or marine is going to let the enemy get away after either shooting at them, especially if it wounded or killed a comrade. I sure hope you wouldn’t let them get away. But, apparently, you would blame the soldiers for it. You just did. It is not the enemies fault that he surrounds himself by civilians, it is ours. That is your logic? (illogic?)
    That is exactly why the insurgents and enemy combatants surround themselves. To get people like you to believe it is our fault that civilians die. If you are correct and the end result in Iraq is nothing but negative. You just remember that you assisted the enemy by believing that is is us and not them that are the bad guys. You know as well as I do, that morale is everything in the battlefield.
    One more thing, I really hope I never meet you Richard. I might try to slap some sense in you, and I don’t like having to do that.

  6. #6 by Richard Warnick on October 31, 2007 - 10:01 am

    Danny, listen to yourself. Imagine if America was occupied and your house was bombed as collateral damage. That’s what the Iraqis are going through, and the sooner our combat forces leave the better for everyone. Certainly you cannot argue that the occupation of Iraq helps our national security– it’s destroying America’s military and our country’s reputation. Throwing away the rules of civilized warfare is both wrong and counterproductive.

  7. #7 by Danny on November 1, 2007 - 4:26 pm

    Richard, I can see where you do make a point,-and would be happy to elaborate-but you still didn’t answer my question. What would you do?

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