Here’s the problem, as defined by two front page newspaper stories.
The Washington Post has a report that undercuts claims that violence in Iraq is dropping:
The U.S. military’s claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.
Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.
Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers — most of which are classified — are often confusing and contradictory. “Let’s just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree,” Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.
Of course, cherry-picking the intel was one of the ways the Bush Administration sold the war to the gullible public, in the first place!
The article makes clear that compliant military officers have been questioning the methodology of the recent pessimistic GAO report and the similarly negative report in the recent National Intelligence Estimate. For example, the NIE reported on the worsening warfare between rival Shiite factions, while the military simply doesn’t track Shiite-on-Shiite or Sunni-on-Sunni attacks. Violence is apparently invisible and inconsequential if it isn’t perpetrated by pre-selected factions. One wonders if there’s an actual application form they’re supposed to fill out, before their murder and mayhem can be officially recognized. Similarly, acts of violence by Sunni tribesmen who have been recruited as U.S. allies aren’t counted at all. In other words, being a U.S. ally means never having to say you’re a murderer.
The December 2006 Iraq Study Group also reported that violence was being underreported, as the Los Angeles Times explained:
Bombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen, according to government figures. An Associated Press tally put the August figure even higher, at 1,809.
And, according to that AP tally, those August casualties represent the second-highest monthly total of the year.