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July 30, 2007

State of Iraq

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

I'm sure the folks at Blackfive will accuse me of being a real-life PFC Santiago combined with an Ivy-league education that prevents me from having any awareness about military matters, but here's my update chart of casualty rates in Iraq:


This time, I've plotted the Killed + Wounded rate twice; once including the actual KIA+WIA rate in April 2004 and November 2004, and once using a "normal" casualty rate for those two months. Those two months featured unusual coalition operations, so I wanted to provide the second plotline to figure out whether normal, everyday operations in Iraq are in fact more dangerous than they have ever been. And that does seem to be the case.

Obviously this graph alone doesn't clarify whether or not the escalation is "working". Optempo is probably up since January, so what we really need is a metric that measures something like "coalition fatalities per patrol". But the initial data doesn't look good, and the few bits of reporting we have on the state of Iraq's civilian infrastructure (lower oil production, fewer hours of electricity availability, etc.), suggest things are getting worse as well.

The silver lining here is that the short-term trend is going in the right direction. Monthly casualties dropped from 4.23 in May (the third highest rate since the occupation) to 3.6 in June to 2.57 in July. But there's an additional cloud obscuring this lining; July is historically one of the lowest-casualty month in Iraq, probably because it's simply too hot to go lay down IEDs, or for Coalition forces to patrol.

—Signed, not Ezra Klein, dagnabbit

July 30, 2007 | Permalink


This is important, but how about Iraqi civilian casulties? I mean, I hate to be a crass body-counter, but those numbers probably are bigger.

Posted by: RW | Jul 30, 2007 1:25:19 AM

I was thinking the same thing, RW, but the numbers are far less reliable. Might be worth looking at the official numbers just to see what they look like.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 30, 2007 3:00:58 AM

These are interesting facts and all, but there is nothing short of Bush being evicted in January 2009 that will change this policy. And that's the most depressing thing: You can throw graph after graph after graph at this guy -- and each one can point to a more imminent and painful disaster -- but as long as the president is more confident than ever, then what really can we do? Is blogging a mere exercise in futility? Should I be this depressed about our political situation this early in the week?

Posted by: Media Glutton | Jul 30, 2007 7:36:43 AM

RW: Sanpete hits the nail on the head. No one has any way of gauging Iraqi civilian casualties. Likewise, reported fatalities for Iraqi coalition forces fluctuate with the size and effectiveness of the said forces.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jul 30, 2007 9:23:54 AM

There was a change in the way American casualies were counted in January of this year in reponse to Linda Bilmes work. Likely, the non-fatal casualty count is higher. Also, psychological casualties are not counted. Lastly, casualty figures for American civilian contractors are not being counted.

Thank you for the important though saddening charting.

Posted by: Jennifer | Jul 30, 2007 9:04:53 PM

Speaking as the fellow at BlackFive who has made critical comments about Harvard (which is a serious complaint: military science is a critical matter for people who desire to be the future leaders of the nation; but the teaching of it is not well served by banning ROTC from campus, etc), I'd like to commend you on engaging the issue based on data. That's good -- it's something we can discuss rationally, because there are hard facts.

Now, here's my problem with what you are citing: as a measure of effectiveness for the surge, coalition casualties are not useful. One of the known costs of moving off the hardened bases, and into the Joint Security Stations, was that there would be sharply escalated casualties. This isn't just about OPTEMPO, though that is also a factor; it's about exposure to danger. The opportunities for the enemy to attack us under the new COIN strategy are greater at every hour of the day. As a result, it is a given that casualties will rise for quite a while -- and continue to rise for a while, as the enemy proceeds up its learning curve on how to exploit those increased opportunities.

As a result, the increase in casualties is an expected cost of the Surge, rather than a measure of how effective it is. The Surge, by design, accepts increased casualties in order to bring increased stability to the neighborhoods in which it is invested.

So, you're right in looking for hard data to confront. You've chosen the wrong MoE, however, as it doesn't really tell us anything about whether the Surge is accomplishing what it intends to accomplish. MoE for the Surge need to examine increases in stability in the Iraqi neighborhoods being engaged, as well as commitment to the central government. They might include, therefore, metrics like recruitment to Iraqi security forces; increases in economic output; increases in the number of tips provided to Coalition and Iraqi forces; the numbers of provinces where Iraqi forces are in the lead, or where the provinces are fully under Iraqi control; and so forth.

There are less quantifiable things to discuss as well, like the questions of political progress in Iraq, or religious reconciliation (the recent meeting of Iraqi religious scholars being obviously praiseworthy, but hard to quantify). But MoE are very important, as they can give you a sense of whether things really are going the way you want them to go.

Posted by: Grim | Jul 30, 2007 10:38:14 PM

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