According to recent press accounts, General Petreaus is expected to claim a rather dramatic fall in violence in Iraq — supposedly a drop of 17% since last December. Of course once you look closer, the story’s just a little, shall we say… different. In their own investigation, the Associated Press found that rather than dropping, civilian deaths have actually increased for the second straight month. By their count, 1,809 civilians died in the month of August alone — and this doesn’t include anyone deemed an “insurgent” by the US military (and as this AFP story about a recent US air strike recounts, there is an awful lot of debate over the designation). And the organization Iraq Body Count, which only includes deaths reported on in the media, has found that civilian deaths are remaining fairly steady. They report a total of at least 71,000 deaths since the war began, though the only peer-reviewed study on Iraqi deaths, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, put the number at around 655,000 — and that was from last October. So how is the Pentagon claiming “success”? Apparently by simply narrowing their definition of “sectarian violence” and excluding everything else. All that Shiite-on-Shiite violence occurring as part of a power struggle in southern Iraq? Doesn’t matter. The same goes for Sunni-on-Sunni violence. Nor is simple criminal violence perpetrated by armed gangs included in their count. It’s really kind of easy to claim reduced civilian deaths when you don’t actually count civilian deaths.
The Washington Post has a good article on this whole issue in today’s paper that includes the following quote, highlighting the absurdity of the whole situation:
Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” the official said. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”