Monday, January 7, 2008
A Cause To Unite Around
Kevin Drum links to the ICCC's latest civilian casualty figures from Iraq, and doesn't see much room for analysis. It reminded me to go check out Iraq Body Count's year-end report on civilian casualties, and I think they give a little more meat to chew on. Not that they don't register a decline. While IBC's totals are significantly higher than the ICCC's numbers (roughly double per month), they still show a dramatic drop in the violence that begins in September and corresponds roughly to the Surge becoming fully operational.
What's revealing, though, is where the casualties are taking place, and how they are occurring. So, for instance, while Baghdad casualties have dropped steeply (from 1168 in July to 294 in Novemeber), casualties outside of Baghdad have registered a significantly lower rate of decline (1363 in July to 683 in November). While this confirms that the troop presence has had its intended effect in Baghdad, as well as a possible "rippling out" effect elsewhere, it also confirms that the Surge, which is already in its initial drawdown phase, has not had a blanket impact on the country as a whole.
Another revealing aspect of the IBC's report is the kind of casualties now occurring. As has already been widely acknowledged, the Surge has either accomplished or coincided with one of its primary goals: sectarian murders in Baghdad accompanied by torture have shown the steepest decline of all types of casualties. More troubling is that deaths of civilian bystanders, including children, from military operations involving American forces have almost doubled since last year ( 544–623 in 2006 to 868–1,326 in 2007). Significantly, according to the IBC airstrikes have been responsible for the "vast majority" of these incidents.
Unfortunately the IBC doesn't break this last number down in a month-by-month analysis. But it evokes the Pyrrhic victory that the Surge represents as our presence evolves from a counter-insurgency to a classic occupation in the absence of any viable Iraqi government. So far we've paid the Sunnis to stop killing us, Tehran has paid the Shiites to stop killing us, and we've put up concrete barriers to keep the Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other. But no one's really made peace.
So if there's a lull in the violence, it strikes me as a very dangerous sort of lull. It's the kind of silence in which a "Blackwater incident" or a stray air-to-ground missile echoes even louder. So far we haven't been able to unite Iraqis around a common cause. But that could change, and not necessarily in the way we'd like.