Pierce Wetter at the Opinionated Bastard runs numbers from the Brookings Institution on US, Iraqi and civilian casualties. A summary of his points is given here, but for the full flavor readers should visit his site and "read the whole thing". Wetter says (points reproduced verbatim):
- First off, US soldiers killed in Iraq continues to fall. This is the 5th straight month.
- Even IED deaths, after a brief surge in February are down to their lowest level since I started keeping track
- Woundings were up slightly, which is interesting, because this is some indicator of operational tempo, or what kind of activities the soldiers are doing.
- Each month, there are more Iraqi troops available.
- Slightly more Iraqi police were killed in March then in February, but the trend is kind of obvious, they're kind of in a steady state of about 200 killed a month.
- Meanwhile, March was actually one of the more peaceful months in Iraq even for the civilians.
Wetter asks, "How do we jive this with the relatively negative reports in the media?" Among the reasons for the disconnect, Wetter notes, is that a big attack will be reported (because it's newsworthy) but information there are fewer attacks may not, on the grounds that statistics are boring. This leaves the newspaper reader with the impression of unremitting violence because it is violence that is reported. The Iraqi blogger I Was There recently noted with irony that good news was not always newsworthy.
Any news? And I replied, No news today, no one killed!! I realized when I answered my colleague that I said it in a way just like I was saying ‘sorry, no one was killed today so there will be no news’, I felt bad and sad.
Pierce Wetter doesn't know what quite to make of the numbers and doesn't mind saying so.
What I think is happening is that the War in Iraq is entering a new phase. What that phase is exactly is hard to say. The press wants to call it a civil war, but I don't think that's the right term. Perhaps its more along the lines of a general increase in chaos, but without a corresponding increase in deadly force.
There are a couple of resources that can help make sense of the political situation in Iraq. The US Institute for Peace finished a special report called Who Are Iraq's New Leaders? What Do They Want? which basically argues that contrary to the view that things are going round in circles, very large changes in the Iraq politics have already taken place. The following points are taken verbatim from their summary.
- Changes in leadership since Saddam have been revolutionary. Among Iraq's new leaders there are virtually no holdovers from the Ba'th era. A "de-Ba'thification" program to remove the old guard reinforces the divide between those who held office before and those who hold it now.
- The ethnic, sectarian, and regional balance of the leadership has also been reversed since Ba'th times; Sunni dominance is gone, and Shi'ah constitute the largest group, with Kurds and Arab Sunnis making up about a fifth of the leadership. A high percentage of the new leaders are exiles, and most have been shaped by years of opposition to Saddam's regime. Under the Ba'th, affiliation with other parties was prohibited; today's leaders come from a diversity of parties.
Their full report claims that Kurdish polity is relatively more advanced because they have had nearly a decade of virtual self-rule made possible in part by the No-Fly Zones; that in fact a whole generation of Kurds has grown up with only slight knowledge of the Arabic language. Counterintuitively, the Institute of Peace report thinks that "In the short term, the United States should slow down the political process to allow politicians to absorb the changes that have taken place and to work out compromises" (page 18 of the full report), instead of accelerating it as political pressures demand. The main change is apparently that Iraqi national identity, which was always strongest among the Sunnis has weakened as an overall-force although the Iraqi identity remains strong even among many Shi'ites. Their summary says: "The new politics of communal identity is making compromise on governing difficult. While ethnic and sectarian identities have been an important feature of the Iraqi polity in the past, the new political process (elections, constitution making) is sharpening them. So, too, is the insurgency."
The other resource is a joint press conference given by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and UK Secretary of State for Defense John Reid. Key excerpts:
Reid: This is a time for holding firm and holding our nerve in Iraq, a time for the politicians in Iraq to do that, to come together in a government of national unity, and a time for the multinational forces and those politicians who support the Iraqi democrats to do that as well. In other words, as the terrorists seek, by their own barbaric methods, to divide inside Iraq and divide outside Iraq, our response should be to hold firm and give maximum unity inside Iraq and maximum unity outside. ...
Terrorists love a vacuum. I know that from my own experience in Northern Ireland. And it's the same throughout the world. So the longer this goes, the more pleased the terrorists would be because it gives them the opportunity to intervene with acts of violence, and secondly, because they will claim it is an illustration of the inability of politicians in Iraq to come together.
On the other hand, I am convinced that there is the will in Iraq for people from different backgrounds, different ethnic groups to come together and form a government of national unity. I was there 10 days ago. I spoke to President Talibani, I spoke to Prime Minister Ja'afari right through the many groups, and there is a great deal of urgency about this. I think it is the most important thing on the agenda in Iraq, which is to respond to the efforts of the terrorists to divide by terrorism, by uniting through democracy. And that would be a huge signal not only to the outside world, but to those brave people of Iraq who through bullets and death and destruction and massacres and threats have turned out in greater number to exercise their democratic rights, to signal their commitment to democracy, than even the people of the United Kingdom or the United States in her big elections. So it is pretty important.
Somewhat later Secretary Rumsfeld addressed the role of the Iraqi forces in what the questioner describes as sectarian violence.
Q Following up on your opening statement, you talked about more than 250,000 Iraqi security forces. In light of the rise in sectarian violence, are you satisfied that the Iraqi security forces, police and army, have the right mix of ethnicity, the right number of Sunnis, Shi'as, Kurds? And that seems to be a top priority, but despite all our efforts, we can't get numbers, we can't get estimates as to how much each of those groups are represented.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think it -- I think it would be accurate to say that for the most part the Ministry of Defense -- security forces -- have a reasonably good mix of ethnicity. The -- understandably, the Ministry of Interior forces that are local, as opposed to the Ministry of Interior forces that are national in scope, the ones that are local tend to be recruited locally. And therefore, they tend to be recruited from the population that exists in that area. And therefore, one would think that they reasonably reflect the ethnic composition of the country, and they tend not to be -- have the balance, if you will, that the Ministry of Defense forces do.
The second thing I would say is, as General Casey has indicated, the progress of the Ministry of Defense forces is considerably more advanced than the Ministry of Interior forces. And that is why the focus that's currently taking place tends to be, in terms of General Dempsey's efforts and the NATO train and equip effort, tends to be focused on the police for those reasons.
A second reason they seem to well behind the ministry of Defense forces is the fact that the government of Iraq, when asked, approved the coalition forces for embedding in ministry of Defense forces, but not to the same extent in ministry of Interior forces -- only at the very, very top levels.
And the advantages that have accrued to the ministry of Defense forces from having U.S. forces embedded have been substantial in terms of being able to very rapidly see needs -- shortfalls in equipment, shortfalls in connections between the ministry of Defense and the ministry of Interior, shortfalls in the connections between the intel community and the forces' logistical needs and the like, leadership strengths and weaknesses.
All those things have been reasonably understood in a very transparent way on the ministry of Defense forces; not so on the ministry of Interior forces. That process is now going forward. We're increasing the coalition embeds in the ministry of Interior forces, and we expect to see this year a fairly substantial improvement in the performance of the ministry of Interior.
As the minister said, however, we've got to have ministers appointed by the new government. They're going to have to be ministers that are competent. They're going to have to be ministers that understand the importance of having their ministry seen throughout that country as being balanced and governing from the center, and something that's certainly not a representation of the spoils of an election victory; and that the selection of leaders -- military leaders and ministry of Interior leaders -- are people that have the confidence of the troops and provide a good, strong rib cage for those organizations.