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August 30, 2007

More Fuzziness
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Hat tip to Brian Katulis at CAP who clued me on to this issue and Spencer Ackerman has already got a great post on this

Basically there are more serious questions about the violence numbers that are being reported out of Iraq.  The Pentagon is congressionally mandated to produce a quarterly progress report to Congress measuring stability in Iraq.  Each of these reports has a graphic measuring sectarian violence.  The last four reports were August, 29 2006 (pg 35), November 30, 2006 (pg 24), March 2, 2007 (pg 17) and June 7, 2007 (pg 17).

I graphed the levels of sectarian violence from these various reports and found some confusing trends.  The abnormalities have been labeled A, B and C.  (There is no difference between the November report and the March report and thus they overlap).


Abnormality A:  Between August and November 2006, DOD started reclassifying “casualties” as “deaths by execution” and suddenly you see a dramatic drop in killings.  For example, in March 2006 right after the Samarra Mosque bombings you go from 1,750 “casualties” to 750 “deaths by execution.”  Between November 2006 and March 2007 “Deaths by Execution” becomes “Sectarian Murders” but the numbers remain the same.

Abnormality B:  Between the March 2007 report and the June 2007 report there was a dramatic change in the number of killings that were reported for the second half of 2006.  In both cases the numbers were described as “sectarian murders.”  The impact here is that it makes the “pre surge” situation look extraordinarily dire and therefore signals progress thereafter.

Abnormality C:  Somehow the reclassification that occurred between the March and June 2007 reports caused the violence numbers in April and May of 2006 to drop dramatically.  This was in the months following the Sammara bombings in February 2006 when sectarian violence was escalating. 

I really have no idea why these numbers are so inconsistent, but it does lead me to call into question the violence numbers that are being reported by the Administration, when it touts progress.  Clearly certain types of violence have been taken out and others have been added. What we need is some transparency.  Congress needs to take a very careful look at the numbers that come before it in September

Update:  Slight correction.  I changed the legend so that Nov. 07/Mar. 07 now reads Nov. 06/Mar. 07. 


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Great investigative reporting here. I'll probably pass this around. Quick heads up on a typo though, I assume the graph is supposed to say Nov-06/Mar-07 and not Nov-07/Mar-07.

Are you suggesting that the Central Committee is not being honest about where we stand with regard to the goals of the current five-year plan? Double-plus ungood!

What Greg said you double plus ungood unperson.

I'm sorry, but charting unreliable statistics on peoples' deaths and then referring to "violence" and "abnormalities" and "inconsistencies" and "sectarian murders" versus "executions" is, to me, a bit bizarre (to quote a Juan Cole adjective) if not obscene. How hellish is hell? Why would a decreasing death rate be a good thing?

from Juan Cole
"I personally find the controversy about Iraq in Washington to be bizarre. Are they really arguing about whether the situation is improving? I mean, you have the Night of the Living Dead over there. People lack potable water, cholera has broken out even in the good areas, a third of people are hungry, a doubling of the internally displaced to at least 1.1 million, and a million pilgrims dispersed just this week by militia infighting in a supposedly safe all-Shiite area. The government has all but collapsed, with even the formerly cooperative sections of the Sunni Arab political class withdrawing in a snit (much less more Sunni Arabs being brought in from the cold). The parliament hasn't actually passed any legislation to speak of and often cannot get a quorum. Corruption is endemic. The weapons we give the Iraqi army are often sold off to the insurgency. Some of our development aid goes to them, too.

"The average number of Iraqis killed in 2007 per day exceeds those killed in 2006. Independent counts by news organizations do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths over-all. Nation-wide attacks in June reached a daily all-time high of 177.5. True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn't paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. If you compare each month in 2006 with each month in 2007 with regard to US military deaths, the 2007 picture is dreadful."


I know it's depressing and completely dehumanizes what's going on in Iraq. But at the same time, it's important to closely dissect the Administration's claims of progress and try to verify whether or not they are true.


I know. I just had to express what we're both (probably) thinking.

Bush has got us debating on his terms, looking at the trees instead of the forest, doing the McNamara/Rumsfeld thing of charting metrics, concerning ourselves with the numbers of corpses instead of the people--real people, not corpses--who are (barely) still alive. Mothers and children trying to stay alive out in the desert somewhere, or in an urban apartment, afraid of every sound, trying to find food and water. Etcetera. I'm going to cry.

from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Date: 28 Jul 2007

The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate with the number of displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country, rising. Now, an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis are have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously, according to UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent.
from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Date: 29 Aug 2007

Today, tens of thousands of families continue to look for their loved ones who are unaccounted for as result of the conflict. According to Iraqi public sources, the number of persons missing since the Iraq-Iran war ranges from 375,000 to 1,000,000. This reflects two main facts:

- The number of persons unaccounted for remains too difficult to estimate with any accuracy ;

- Even if the minimum of 375,000 missing persons is correct, it reflects the scope of this unsolved tragedy faced by both families and missing persons. For each missing person there is not only one person suffering but there are whole families who wait for information or the return of their loved ones.

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