Monday, July 28, 2008

Bad Data. Better Reality

Our casualty rates in Iraq have plummetted. While it is true that casualties in Afghanistan are up, the main reason Afghanistan exceeds Iraq is that Iraq is quieting down. It is common for analysts to cite violent incidents in Iraq as reaching down to levels we haven't seen since March 2004.

This is very good news. This is even better than you think. I've mentioned this before but haven't seen it mentioned in the media, but March 2004 is the last month we measured violent incidents the old way. That is why March 2004 has emerged as the point of comparison.

Data on vilence in Iraq beginning in April 2004 is not comparable to data from March 2004 and earlier because in April 2004 we began counting every single incident as part of the attack data. Before then, I think we may have only counted incidents that inflicted casualties as an official incident. Or it may have been some other screen that left out many incidents that we now count as attacks.

Our March 2004 casualties were 52. You tell me whether our casualties today, 12 dead through 28 days of July 2008, are comparable or better than March 2004. [UPDATE: Note that 2 of our dead were discovered this month, but actually murdered by the enemy last year after they were captured.]

So Iraq violence in recent months using a broad definition that counts everything is now down to levels in March 2004 that did not count everything as attacks. If March 2004 had been measured the way we measure months since April 2004, I have no doubt that our current situation would be significantly better than March 2004 and not just matching that month.

Our enemies in Iraq appear to be defeated. If they have anything left in them, they'll try to pull an al Tet Offensive before our elections this fall. But do they have the power? They haven't managed anything in nearly a year and I find it hard to believe that they've willingly let themselves be hammered for this long in order to lull us prior to an offensive.

The war is not over. But we've done well to get to the point where our military can serve as a reserve, provide combat support to Iraqi line forces, guard the Iraqis from foreign invasion threats, and train the Iraqis while we use non-military means to bolster the Iraqi economy, society, and government.