Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, June 14, 2007

  Pentagon quarterly report on Iraq: What surge?

On Wednesday the Pentagon released another quarterly report on 'progress' in Iraq during the period February through May. All the evidence of consequence in it indicates what most of us had already surmised, that things continue to get worse in Iraq. Yet, in contrast to earlier quarterly reports, this one avoids discussing even the possibility of all-out civil war.

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Here are overviews of the report from the WaPo, and the NYT, and the Associated Press, and McClatchy if you care to read them. I'll work directly from the Pentagon document (large PDF).

The statistics are poorly presented (perhaps even more so than in past reports); rather than precise numbers, we typically are given vague charts to eyeball. The text continues to avoid absolutely basic issues.

It will be enough to note the most glaring 'facts'. I'm treating this report's facts with even greater skepticism than in the past because in the last few months the Pentagon has refused to release full information and statistics for such things as the numbers of civilians being killed. The administration has also repeatedly made what are obviously counter-factual assertions about improvements in Iraq, some of these related to statistics that it was suppressing and manipulating for public consumption.

Almost all credibility is gone, then. But given that the picture the Pentagon presents in this report is pretty bleak, I think we can take that as some measure of just how bad things really are now in Iraq (if the full truth were known).

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Death and mayhem

The report tries to distract us by presenting first (p. 17) a chart depicting an alleged drop in "sectarian murders" since December. A footnote to the term "sectarian" discloses that the numbers in the chart are arrived at by excluding an unspecified number of murders—by the simple expedient of defining "sectarian" however the military wishes to define it. Incidentally, McClatchy has been compiling its own statistics; it found that sectarian murders were up 70% just from April to May.

There is a second chart immediately after this one, which has no parallel in the previous quarterly report. It records the numbers of weapons caches found. By the mere fact of the chart's inclusion, you could guess that the numbers of caches found have been going up in recent months! The chart's presence in this version signifies that the military is now so desperate to identify signs of "progress" that it will highlight any positive evidence, however marginal.

But let's turn to the more overtly meaningful charts. On p. 21 we find a chart recording the average number of attacks per day per province. In four of the five most violent provinces, the average is up since the last report (it is down however in Anbar).

A chart on p. 23 of the average weekly attacks shows a slight increase since the last quarter (and a huge increase since one year ago).

The next chart, average daily casualties, shows slight increases since the last quarter for civilians and both Iraqi and coalition forces (and, again, vast increases since one year ago). About 100 civilians died each day during this quarter.

Charts on pp. 26-7 depict the level of optimism that Iraqis feel about the violence they face and the ability of the government to cope with it. The results are grim. For example, only 32% of Iraqis polled feel safe outside their own neighborhoods.

By contrast, there is no chart included for the numbers of suicide attacks. These more than doubled during this quarter. Anybody with three thoughts to rub together might well ponder how it is possible for the US to continue to occupy a country for years on end, when so many of its citizens are so utterly desperate that they'll deliberately kill themselves in order to take vengeance upon their enemies.

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Schools repainted

Well, what about improvements in infrastructure as a result of the "surge" of tens of thousands of more troops into Iraq? Surely this has been a boon to rebuilding efforts?

As a chart on p. 12 shows, oil production is down slightly since February, and down significantly since December. Although the chart neglects to inform us, these levels remain vastly below pre-war levels of production.

Electricity? Production is down for the second quarter in a row (p. 14), to the lowest point it has been since right after the invasion in 2003. It is now well below 50% of the actual demand in Iraq. Baghdad still has electricity for less than 12 hours per day (how much less, however, the chart on p. 15 doesn't care to tell us).

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Iraqis standing up

Much of the rest of the report paints a glowing picture of Iraqi police and military forces growing in numbers and in confidence. There are now, we are told, increasingly large numbers of well trained Iraqi forces. We are told also that they're taking "lead responsibility" for counter-insurgency efforts in nearly every province (although a comparison to the last quarterly report shows that there's been some backsliding in this regard in Baghdad between February and May, something the report doesn't highlight).

Make of all that what you will.

I don't know of any independent, credible witness who believes that these forces are up to anything like their nominal strength, or that they're cohesive fighting forces. In any case, they are thoroughly infiltrated with sectarian and thuggish leaders such that Iraqi civilians don't trust them in the slightest. Neither, evidently, do rank and file American soldiers and marines.

Besides, they have none of their own air support, without which they are at most pawns of the American occupying force. The entire Iraqi Air Force consists of no more than 900 men (p. 42).

So far, I have found nothing in this quarterly report to document the numbers of Sunni insurgents whom the US has armed or how much cash they've been handed. Perhaps it's too much to ask, however, that the Pentagon should keep track of such tawdry things.

crossposted at Unbossed

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