The war over the Iraq numbers

Color me unimpressed with the antics of CodePink at today’s hearing with Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. Along with the nasty full-page ad in this morning’s New York Times by MoveOn.org (seen at left), the tactics on display paint a ugly picture of antiwar protest groups. Never mind that opposition to the Iraq war is ...

599464_070910_moveon_05.jpg
599464_070910_moveon_05.jpg

Color me unimpressed with the antics of CodePink at today's hearing with Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. Along with the nasty full-page ad in this morning's New York Times by MoveOn.org (seen at left), the tactics on display paint a ugly picture of antiwar protest groups. Never mind that opposition to the Iraq war is an utterly mainstream position at this point—it is the angry tone of the shouters in the back of Ike Skelton's hearing room that people will associate with opposition to continuing the war, not the careful reasoning of folks like William Odom.

There is, it should be a noted, a fierce debate going on over the metrics used by Gen. Petraeus, and that's important. A lot of people are accusing Petraeus of essentially "cooking the books" by manipulating the definition of what, for example, a "sectarian attack" is.

I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'll just note that it's perfectly consistent for Gen. Petraeus to say that violence is down over the past few months, while at the same time, overall levels of violence are higher in 2007 than they were in 2006. Just look at this chart of attacks from today's presentation, and you'll see what I mean. July 2007 was a more violent month than July 2006, but it was less violent than June 2007. The real question is: Will the numbers continue to go down in the fall, or will they head back up? We'll find out soon enough.

Color me unimpressed with the antics of CodePink at today’s hearing with Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. Along with the nasty full-page ad in this morning’s New York Times by MoveOn.org (seen at left), the tactics on display paint a ugly picture of antiwar protest groups. Never mind that opposition to the Iraq war is an utterly mainstream position at this point—it is the angry tone of the shouters in the back of Ike Skelton’s hearing room that people will associate with opposition to continuing the war, not the careful reasoning of folks like William Odom.

There is, it should be a noted, a fierce debate going on over the metrics used by Gen. Petraeus, and that’s important. A lot of people are accusing Petraeus of essentially “cooking the books” by manipulating the definition of what, for example, a “sectarian attack” is.

I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’ll just note that it’s perfectly consistent for Gen. Petraeus to say that violence is down over the past few months, while at the same time, overall levels of violence are higher in 2007 than they were in 2006. Just look at this chart of attacks from today’s presentation, and you’ll see what I mean. July 2007 was a more violent month than July 2006, but it was less violent than June 2007. The real question is: Will the numbers continue to go down in the fall, or will they head back up? We’ll find out soon enough.

Second, as this memo from Kirk Johnson points out, U.S. officials in Baghdad are well aware that they may be underestimating the total number of civilian casualties.

All that said, perhaps we’d be better off looking at other data to assess whether Iraq is becoming safer or not. For instance, what do Iraqis think? This BBC/ABC/NHK poll suggest they don’t share Petraeus’s optimism:

Between 67% and 70% of the Iraqis polled believe the surge has hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development, according to the August 2007 findings.

And what about refugees? People vote with their feet; they’ll return when they feel it’s safe. Are Iraqis returning to Baghdad and Anbar province? Sadly, the answer is no. According to the latest information from the International Organization for Migration, the plight of Iraq’s internally displaced persons is as bad as ever, and the Financial Times reports today that “Iraq’s crisis, with 4m displaced people, is double that of Darfur.” Very few have returned. If that changes in a significant way, we won’t need to parse Gen. Petraeus’s stats anymore.

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