Sunday, March 05, 2006

Good news from Iraq: hard facts for pessimists

The historic elections of January 2005 can be seen to have produced a fundamental shift in the war in Iraq.

The following statistics are taken mostly from the invaluable monthly Brookings Institute reports.

The Bad News:
1. Daily attacks are up: from 19 in December 2003 to 52 in December 2004 to 75 in December 2005.
2. US military deaths overall have not declined: 486 in 2003; 848 in 2004; 846 in 2005.
3. Multiple fatality bombings are up: from 29 in winter 2004 to 56 in winter 2005 to 92 in winter 2006 (winter calculated as Nov/Dec/Jan).

The Good News:
1. Successful daily attacks are down sharply: from about 25-30% in December of 2004 to about 10% in December of 2005.
2. US wounded are down sharply: The Iraqi insurgency was relatively limited from March 2003 through March 2004. In April 2004 the insurgency gained dramatically in strength with casualties running 323 for that month and peaking at 1397 in November 2004 during the battle of Fallujah. They gone down steadily since then, and in the last four months casualties have dropped from 618 in October 2004 to 259 in January 2006. The casualty figures of 259 for January 2006 are the lowest for any month since the insurgency exploded in April 2004.
3. Iraqi police and military fatalities are down sharply: they ran 109 in January 2005, and the Iraqi armed forces saw their fatalities peak in July of that summer at 304. They have dropped steadily since then to 190 in January 2006.
4. Car bombings have been cut sharply: from 136 in May 2005 to 30 in December 2005.
5. Attacks on Iraqi oil and gas infrastructure are down sharply: from 60 in winter 2005 to 11 in winter 2006 (Nov/Dec/Jan).
6. Hostile fire deaths are down sharply: in the ten months from April 2004 through the elections of 2005, Americans suffered 458 deaths; or 45.8 deaths per month to mortar, rocket propelled grenades, snipers, and other hostile fire (apart from helicopters). In the twelve months since the elections (Feb 2005 to Jan 2006), Americans have suffered 196 deaths from hostile fire; or 16.3 deaths per month.

[Helicopter deaths are excluded in the above figures, although these are encouraging as well: Helicopter losses due to enemy fire were 5 per month during the liberation of Iraq; 4.5 per month under the CPA; 0.2 per month during the revolt; and 0.8 per month since the January 2005 elections. It's possible that the insurgency has gotten better at targeting our helicopters since the elections, but it hasn't produced a serious impact on fatality statistics.]

We can break the war into four phases based on hostile fire deaths:
Phase I: Liberation of Iraq--March/April 2003: 49 deaths per month.
Phase II: CPA occupation--May 2003/March 2004: 12.4 deaths per month.
Phase III: Revolt--April 2004/January 2005: 45.7 deaths per month.
Phase IV: Democracy--February 2005/Jan 2006: 16.3 deaths per month.

In sum, these figures imply a very different account of the field of battle than the nightly television reports. They suggest that since the elections of January 2005 things have not gone well for the insurgency. The insurgents appear increasingly to be getting swept out of their areas of operations, and seem to be having a very difficult time getting American soldiers in their gunsights. The basic thing that has kept them on the nightly news are the IEDs (the improvised explosive devices). Although fewer of these are going off, the ones that do go off have greater power, hence the rise in multiple fatality bombings coupled with the decline in car bombings overall.

The trendlines on this don't look good for the enemy at all. More Iraqi soldiers are in the field, and the enemy has had a decreasing ability to inflict its will on the new Iraqi army; hence the declining fatality figures for the Iraqis. The insurgency since the January 2005 elections has shown a declining capability to fight Iraqi soldiers or American soldiers or even to attack fixed installations.

In other words: they're losing.

The analysis above basically agrees with what regular readers of Strategy Page have been getting there.

Does this mean that the war will soon be over? No. The Democrats are running for Congress on a policy of immediate withdrawal; and enemies of democracies design their attacks for maximum political impact in election years (see the Madrid bombings of 2004 in Spain). The Democratic campaign platform guarantees a major summer/fall offensive in Iraq designed to convince Americans to quit in Iraq and give the terrorists the victory. They will be helped in this by the 85% Democratic networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC who will slant the coverage of the attacks in a way designed to convince the American people that the war in Iraq is hopeless.

Clausewitz pointed on in On War that winning a war is not ultimately about killing soldiers, but breaking the enemy's will to resist. Americans can lose if they choose to believe the reports from ABC, CBS & NBC rather than our soldiers in the field.

Rather they can follow Tom Paine: These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Postscript: A few other points should be added. The total number of American deaths as of January 2006 is 2241. 18% of these are not combat related. 40% of the deaths are hostile fire-related (apart from helicopter deaths at 6%). The remaining 36% of US deaths are due to IEDs (31%) and car bombs (5%).

Postscript 2: I'd be grateful for comments on this post by some of the milbloggers. And I'm embarrassed to say that I wanted to include a graph here, but I could not figure out how to import Excel graphs into Blogger. Any help?


At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Anonymous orwell lives said...

Download the Brookings Institute's PDF ( and read and distill the numbers for yourself. Don't rely on someone else's assessment of what's 'sharply down' and what isn't? How do you define sharply down anyway? Just read the thing for yourself.

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear Orwell:

Thanks for dropping by! If you find any errors in my stats, please let me know, and I will correct them promptly.

As for the use of the term "sharply down", I think in every case I give the exact statistics after using the phrase. If anyone disagrees with my characterization, they're welcome to substitute another phrase.

In any case, the bottom line seems clear enough: despite what the press says, we're winning.


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