Saturday, April 01, 2006

American deaths in Iraq hit two-year low: The Washington Post can't handle the truth


Rice Admits to 'Tactical Errors' U.S. Troop Fatalities Hit a Low; Iraqi Deaths Soar. So reads today's Washington Post. Two articles: one where Rice admits that mistakes were made in BIG type; the other where the US shows dramatic progress in tiny type.

Is there any way to rationalize this except as anti-Bush bias at the Post?

This blog regularly slams major media, but it doesn't usually slam the Post. The Washington Post is certainly a liberal slanted newspaper--but that's not really a big deal: there is no unbiased news, and a slant is to be expected. What I appreciate about the Post--unlike many other American news outlets--is that there's nearly always a good faith effort to be fair, its liberal slant notwithstanding. Well and good: the Post wears its liberalism with honesty and honour.

Most of the time.

Today's story correctly notes that American casualties have dropped to due to our success in training the Iraqi army, and it correctly notes that Iraqi casualties are up.

But quite apart from its determination to hype the fluff of Condi's confession, quite apart from its determination to play down the dramatic progress in US casualties in Iraq, the Washington Post can't even get the Iraqi casualty story straight.

1) The Post exaggerates the situation with respect to Iraqi military and civilian casualties: "But recent weeks have also been among the most lethal of the war for Iraqi civilians, police officers and soldiers, who were killed and wounded at a rate of about 75 a day, a rate three times as high as at the start of 2004." This combines Iraqi police/military fatalities with civilian fatalities, and thus produces a misleading result. The graph above shows Iraqi police/military fatalities which have been dropping steadily since the summer of 2005, despite the fact that numbers of Iraqis in the field is steadily increasing. Appeal to the military death rates for Iraqis from 2004 is misleading since there were so few Iraqi police/military in the field at that point. The Iraqi civilian figures fluctuate from month to month: March was certainly a bad month for Iraqi civilians with 899 deaths and Iraqi civilian deaths have been rising since December of 2005--but even the March 2006 figure was down from 1524 deaths in August of 2005.

2) The Post misses the point that American fatalities have now been declining sharply for six months. From 99 in Oct 2005 to 86 in Nov 2005 t o 68 in December 2005 to 64 in Jan 2006 to 58 in Feb 2006 to 31 in Jan 2006. So American fatalities have dropped about 70% in six months.

Ever seen that fact on the nightly news? Didn't think so.

3) The Post misses the point that the March reduction in American deaths is part of a broader trend over the last sixteen months. I suspect that the public perception is that things in Iraq have gotten worse over the last year or so in terms of American casualties. But that is simply not true. The peak point in American casualties was the period between the hand off of American sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004 and the first elections in January 2005.

The Bush strategy was to elect a democratic government, train a new Iraqi army, and then American casualties would drop. Is the strategy working?

American fatalities per day
June 2004-Jan 2005: 2.92
Jan 2005-Dec 2005: 2.35
Dec 2005-Mar 2006: 1.69

American fatalities have dropped 20% since the elections of January 2005, and 42% since the elections of December 2005 (as against the June 2004-Jan 2005 base). The Post headlines for the second Bush term could have read regularly: American casualties in Iraq drop again. But that's not a story that the press seems to want to cover.

4) The Post misses the point that some of the March reduction is seasonal. Weather is a part of the Iraqi battlefield, and the insurgents and terrorists have traditionally been relatively quiet in March. In March 2004 fatalities were relatively low at 52; but in April 2004 the insurgency exploded with Americans suffering 140 deaths. In March 2005 deaths were relatively low at 39, but then deaths headed upward, peaking at 99 in October of 2005.

5) The Post misses the point that we are in an election year and there is every reason to expect a redoubling of attacks by the terrorists to browbeat the Americans into voting for surrender. As Clausewitz pointed out: war is politics by other means. The terrorists in Iraq time their attacks for maximum political effect; they consciously work to manipulate the news media and most of the time they succeed. The next six months are certain to see renewed attacks by the terrorists. If American casualties are still this low six months from now, then the terrorists will have failed, and we will be in a position to declare victory and go home.

Much however as of today is in doubt. The Democrats are running for Congress on a scarcely concealed platform of surrender in Iraq. The terrorist summer/fall offensive will be designed for maximum casualties to help the Democrats win the Congress and force the administration to hand over Iraq to the terrorists.

The Republicans are running on a platform of stay the course; a strategy which has been working so far, at least as measured by the 20% reduction of US casualties since the first elections in Jan 2005, and the 40% reduction in casualties since the elections in December (with June 2004-Jan 2005 as the baseline).

Why surrender Iraq to the terrorists when the evidence shows we're winning?

Conclusion: The Post here misses the real story. The story should have gone something like this: The American strategy of handing the war over to the Iraqi military showed yet another month of success as American fatalities dropped for the sixth consecutive month and are now at the lowest levels since the insurgency exploded in April 2004. Iraqi military deaths are up slightly in March but still down sharply from summer 2005 despite the increase in Iraqi military in the field, evidence of the increasing professionalism of the Iraqi army. But Iraqi civilian deaths are up, reflecting the delay in forming a new Iraqi government and renewed fears of civil war. Meanwhile, American commanders brace for a new round of terrorist attacks this summer as Al Qaeda hopes to influence the American fall elections and terrorize American voters into retreat.

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