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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gauging the Success of the Troop Surge

Pardon me while I turn to the war for a moment, I'm hoping someone can explain the logic here. The administration is not counting deaths from car bombings in the Iraqi civilian death counts used to assess whether the surge is working because, as Bush argues, "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory."

Let me see if I can give a better justification. I assume they are saying we can't do much about car bombings, so we'll take them as given and only count what we think we can affect. We'll then use changes in the counts for the things we can believe we can control as our measure of success. But as suggested below even those statistics are suspect since most of the decline in deaths the administration cites as evidence the surge is working came before the surge even began. And if a substantial amount of the violence is from car bombings and you are admitting there's nothing you can do to stop them, what is the surge supposed to accomplish?:

U.S. officials exclude car bombs in touting drop in Iraq violence, by Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge ... is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population - one of the surge's main goals. ...

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths - the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders - as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show - up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down. ...

U.S. officials have said that they don't expect the security plan to stop bombings. "I don't think you're ever going to get rid of all the car bombs," Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said this week. "Iraq is going to have to learn as did, say, Northern Ireland, to live with some degree of sensational attacks." ...

Experts who have studied car bombings say it's no surprise that U.S. officials would want to exclude their victims from any measure of success.

Car bombs are almost impossible to detect and stop, particularly in a traffic-jammed city such as Baghdad. U.S. officials in Baghdad concede that while they've found scores of car bomb factories in Iraq, they've made only a small dent in the manufacturing of these weapons. ... A few people with rudimentary skills can assemble one with massive effect. ... [pointer from ThinkProgress]. [Update: cactus at Angry Bear also comments.]

    Posted by on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 07:50 PM in Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (63)

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