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Iraq: Interesting numbers
Posted by: McQ on Thursday, April 06, 2006

From Sean at (a great blog if you haven't seen it yet):
81, 76, 50, 49, 43, 25

What are these numbers? This week’s Powerball winners? A safe deposit combo? New numbers to torment those poor b*stards stranded on the island in Lost?

No, they’re the number of troops that have died in hostile actions in Iraq for each of the past six months. That last number represents the lowest level of troop deaths in a year, and second-lowest in two years.

But it must be that the insurgency is turning their assault on Iraqi military and police, who are increasingly taking up the slack, right?

215, 176, 193, 189, 158, 193 (and the three months before that were 304, 282, 233)

Okay, okay, so insurgents aren’t engaging us; they’re turning increasingly to car bombs then, right?

70, 70, 70, 68, 30, 30

Civilians then. They’re just garroting poor civilians.

527, 826, 532, 732, 950, 446 (upper bound, two months before that were 2489 and 1129).
What a strange "civil war" right?

As Sean points out, this doesn't mean that everything is hunky dory in Iraq. But it certainly has to mean something, doesn't it? Trends, after all, are trends. And in every category we see the trend toward fewer and fewer deaths in Iraq.

The trends could indicate any number of possibilities.

1. The "insurgency" (which includes al Qaeda and Saddam dead-enders) is losing steam.

2. The sectarian strife (let's call them what they are: vendetta killings) is burning itself out.

3. The Iraqi military and police are getting better and better and taking charge of more area.

4. Coalition soldiers are getting better at the job of patrolling and reacting to their enemy.

Wretchard at Belmont Club throws in a couple of other possibilities:
One possibility is that the "increasingly confident" insurgency reported by the International Crisis Group is giving America one last respite before unleashing hell and finally driving the US from Iraq. The other possibility is that the enemy, unable to defeat the US military in the field, has embarked on a strategy Amir Taheri called "Waiting Out Bush".
Obviously it could be a combination of all of the above, some of the above or none of the above (although I'd find that to be very unlikely).

But they are interesting numbers.

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Previous Comments to this Post 

On the surface, the "wait Bush out" strategy looks like it would make sense. If the insurgents really did keep their powder dry for three years, by then the US military would probably be down to a fraction of what it is now, and it would very likely be politically infeasible to increase it in response to a new round of violence.

But somehow this does not strike me as a policy that would be adopted by fanatics. Like the Kzin in Larry Niven’s books, I think they just can’t wait to fight even when waiting makes sense. Such a strategy would also require unified leadership, which it’s not clear the insurgents have.

And waiting would not be without risk. Young radicals sitting on the bench might end up getting a job and a family in the meantime, and all of sudden turn out not to be so radical any more. Iraq’s police and armed forces might actually gel into something effective.

Similarly, the "one last respite" strategy doesn’t seem to match the insurgents characteristics. They might do it because logistically they have to, but I don’t see them adopting that as grand strategy.

So I suspect a combination of the other factors. We’ll know better when our baseline is longer. I’d like to pick end of year as another good baseline, but it’s quite possible that there will be a period that the insurgents throw everything they’ve got into creating as much havoc as they are able, either in response to an Iraqi agreement on government, or in an attempt to influence American elections. (I think of Manual O’Kelly Davis in Moon is a Harsh Mistress during his bombardment of earth from the moon with catapult-launched rocks: "I decided I’d rather run out of rocks than look like I was running out of rocks.")
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
And waiting would not be without risk. Young radicals sitting on the bench might end up getting a job and a family in the meantime, and all of sudden turn out not to be so radical any more. Iraq’s police and armed forces might actually gel into something effective.
I agree Billy.
Civil strife breeds civil strife. The insurgents feed off of it. And chaos is their best ally.

Let’s hope, obviously, that the trend will continue. But I don’t know that it passes the smell test.
The insurgents may be holding out for a dramatic series of violent events to crush optimistic hopes of both the Iraqis and the American public. It could happen sooner or later. Maybe even the next lunar new year.
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
I have a few more possibilities to add to the reasoning behind the decreasing number of deaths in Iraq.

1. Maybe everyone is starting to realize what a senseless war their fighting.
Sometimes it has to hit home for some people to truly give thought to this war.

2. The soldiers are attacking in smaller groups.

3. I got it! The troops are finally coming home!

Whatever it maybe, I hope it stays this way. Wishful thinking, I’ll take my changes with the Chicago Cubs winning the next World Series.
Written By: jermaine
URL: http://
excellent points!

I say we declare Mission Accomplished and support the troops by bringing them home to their old jobs with full back pay.

Anyone have a problems supporting the troops and their families like this?

(sigh) I figured there was....
Written By: Rick D.
URL: http://
Something to keep in mind here is the concept of fourth generation warfare. 4GW is fought in four arenas military action, ideology/religion, through the media, and politically.

What is the real danger in Iraq? Another Iranian (shia) puppet state like Lebanon. The Shiites are already a large portion of the population, Muqtada al-Sadr has a private army- sure he’s not using it- right now. But all that needs to be done is to continue to subvert the army and police and government at all levels and wait until the US leaves.

Iran is already at war with us on their terms. We are just not at war with them on ours. Look at the manufactured IEDs they send across the border reported here I believe. They don’t need to fill slots for the Grunts they just need NCO’s to train new recruits that Muqtada al-Sadr and others bring in.

Don’t get me wrong, we are definitely right to oppose them and all the fundamentalist, freedom hating they bring but we need to acknowledge the way Iran fights- Hezbollah, feeding arms to war lords (northern alliance in Afghanistan), and all manner of subversion.

I’ve been trying to get others opinions on the reading I’ve been doing- it definitely makes sense- but it smacks of conspiracy theory also. I don’t know where to draw the line. But consider the Iranians patting themselves on the back for lying through negotiations and doing what they wanted and intended to do all along (bad faith negotiations). That was blogged here on QandO here as well.

More or less what I’m saying is we need to understand what they are doing and why. 4GW blurs everything. with enough chaos, you can play political hard ball by killing people who are on a committee or for an important vote. to most people it would statistics. But if you are on a committee of 12 people and 2 die in three days.. you get the message even if others don’t.
Written By: Richard
URL: http://
Committment levels will likely be reduced if these trends continue - Could this explain why Sen. Kerry, who fought in Viet Nam, is again proposing a troop pull-out timetable?
Written By: bains
URL: http://
I know that was awesomely articulate. I wanted to clarify the last point. Lower deaths can look like less military action but even small actions or a few deaths can have huge effect. Looking at it from a military perspective, those two deaths are insignificant, but politically they can be huge, but one would never know without realizing the connection.

That probably sounds pesimistic, but by fighting a war that way, they really take advantage of our notion that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. A little deception can go a long way, so it is important to see that very good intel makes all the difference in this type of war.
Written By: Richard
URL: http://
If the insurgents’ strategy was to "wait out Bush", then there would be no casualties at all. Perhaps some of them are using that strategy, but you cannot say all of them are.

I agree with McQ: the numbers represent a positive trend.
Written By: EdMcGon
Its Iraq day at the BBC World Service.

Special in depth coverage, Fri 7th Apr:

The online radio service is available here:
Written By: symptomless
URL: http://
Anyone interested ought to read the full Brookings Institute report.

Very interesting stats on the progress of security and reconstruction.

The connectivity numbers (media/phone/internet) are through the roof. So, I feel, there is a great hope that modernity will win out over the Islamists.

Attacks on the oil infrastructure are radically down.

Unemployement is down by 1/2 (estimated) from even a year ago.

There are a lot of positive signs you can get from the full report, besides the number of attacks/deaths going down or stabilizing.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
At First there were 2,000 insurgents. Now there are 20,000 insusurgents who have 150,000 US troops fixed in positions in Iraq. We’re spending billions they are spending thousands. While we are pinned down, the Iranians are building a nuke.

You guys are so hard up for good news from iraq you will grasp at anything. Iraq has been handled as badly as New Orlean. Its an ablsolute disaster. The enemy grows stronger, while we just bleed money and blood.

The Soviet Union fell because of incompetence, corruption, and their beliefs in their own propaganda. We are guilty of the same sins.

Written By: cindy b
URL: http://

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