Violence in Iraq

The Financial Times (and just about everybody but the Huffington Post) is carrying the story of declining violence in Iraq:

Violence in Iraq has fallen at a rate that has surprised military commanders and even one of the architects of the “surge” that boosted US troop numbers in the country this year, according to figures gathered by the US.

The figures show the numbers of suicide attacks, roadside bombings, mortar and other attacks on US forces and on the Iraqi population have more than halved since 30,000 extra troops in June.

The US military says the number of civilian deaths has also fallen 60 per cent since the surge took effect, with a drop of 75 per cent in Baghdad. According to, the average monthly US death toll dropped from 96 for the first half of 2007 to 66 in the past four months. The average monthly death toll for Iraqi civilians and security forces has dropped from 2,157 to 1,223 in the same period.

One must be hesitant to take such statistics at face value, of course. Besides the incredible violence of the period with which this is being compared (although, “improvement” is fine, so long as nobody starts talking about “success”, as US deaths march on towards 4,000).

This is still, loosely, the same crowd that was happy to define murder as sectarian if the bullet went in the back of the head, but plain old murder otherwise. There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and then there is a military industrial complex trying to sell you a broken war and keep making money while we run out of heating oil and poor kids still can’t read.

Some such scepticism (thank you again, Inel) is noted by the FT:

… some experts are less convinced. Anthony Cordesman, a defence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the statistics did not capture the true picture of violence in Iraq.

“The [numbers] that the coalition counts tend to omit most of the violence in the south, which is Shiite-on-Shiite, and lower-level tensions between Arabs and Kurds. It also doesn’t seem to count Sunni-on-Sunni unless it is al-Qaeda versus anti-al-Qaeda.”

One wonders if such people also serve in police forces where black-on-black gang violence (or gang-on-gang gang violence, to keep with the times) isn’t considered a policing problem.

We cannot say “violence is down”, when we are measuring only violence from certain people towards certain other people, or in certain other areas. We also aren’t measuring all of the things towards which people are violent, to wit: infrastructure. Around this time, last year, the BBC ran a similar discussion, wherein they mentioned two other signals: insurgent attacks against infrastructure:

BBC graph1

which, when added, showing “violence” still on the up, and displacement of Iraqis fleeing said violence. Now, post-surge, if you will, kind-of-better-but-still-typically-mixed news:

Iraqis return home ‘in thousands’

An estimated 1,000 people a day are returning across Iraq’s borders having previously moving abroad to escape the violence, Iraqi authorities say.

Most of the returnees are coming from Syria – and very few from Jordan, where better-off refugees tended to go.

Why mixed? Well, that social gradients to returnees is going to be a factor:

One factor in their return is likely to be a sharp and sustained drop in all kinds of violence, particularly in parts of the capital Baghdad, following a US-Iraqi military “surge”. But the stream of returnees from Syria is not being matched by return traffic from Jordan, where there may be as many as a million Iraqi refugees.

That is probably because those in Syria are poorer, so their savings have run out more quickly, says the BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad. Syrian authorities, who have seen the country’s population swollen by up to 10% by the flood of Iraqi refugees, have begun imposing visa requirements.

Iraqi authorities, for their part, have been providing incentives for refugees to return, such as free bus rides from Syria. They have also tried to encourage those Iraqis displaced inside the country – who constitute about half the total – to return to their homes by offering families grants of $800 to do so.

So far 4,700 families have taken up the offer with another 8,500 registered for them. But not all the returnees are confident the security improvement is permanent.

A separate piece by the BBC a couple of weeks ago is more positive. They are also realistic, though, which is something the engineers of the occupation may not be. Not to mention a civilian government more prone to asinine displays of childish triumphalism than to government (one wonders what they think, now, of parading around with their purple fingers). I’d like to see some figures on the infrastructure either still being destroyed, or destroyed over the last year, particularly right after the escalation in violence during the late summer.

My interest is in terms of economic development. The more Iraqi infrastructure is destroyed, the more reconstruction will cost, certainly, but the longer it will take to rebuild human and social capital, and to return to any sort of path of economic development – and I just don’t trust the government that sent Paul Bremer there to rip that rug out from under Iraqis once before to do all that much to help. Meanwhile the US State Department can’t get people to go to Iraq at all, let alone the best and brightest needed to put Iraq on the best footing for future economic recovery and growth.

Finally, while we look at rogue pictures of be-flagged coffins and ask ourselves if it was worth it. We went there, uninvited. Frankly, we get (collectively) what we deserve, even though most people are getting, disproportionately, what a relative few people deserve. Still, we’re not the ones doing close to the suffering:

BBC graph2

While those numbers are also way down (finally), civilian fatalities since January 2005 are still 38,712; Iraqi police fatalities are 6,358 – and those people aren’t coming back. Quite an enterprise.


1 comment so far

  1. Ken Larson on

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    Politicians make no difference.

    We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

    Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

    There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

    The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

    So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

    This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

    The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

    For more details see:

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