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Posted at 8:01 AM ET, 10/ 1/2007

Counting Civilian Deaths in Iraq

By washingtonpost.com Editors
[Photo of General Petraeus]
"Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide, since the height of the sectarian violence in December."
--General David Petraeus, congressional testimony, September 11, 2007.
[Photo of Sen. Hillary Clinton]
"The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief. ... If you look at all the evidence that's been presented, overall civilian deaths have risen."
--Sen. Hillary Clinton, responding to Petraeus during his Senate testimony.

The Facts

Which of these two statements is correct? The tally of violence-related civilian deaths in Iraq has become one of the most contentious issues in the political debate over the war. Our goal here is to take a close look at the factual foundations of the various claims and counter-claims. For the last two weeks, we have engaged in lengthy e-mail exchanges with Petraeus's spokesman in Baghdad, obtained data supplied by the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and conducted interviews with data-crunching experts in the United States and Britain, seeking a clearer picture of how military officials arrived at the "over 45 percent" claim made by Petraeus during his testimony to Congress. Among our preliminary findings:

* The Petraeus claim rests on combining two distinct data sets, one more reliable than the other, according to MNF-I. The most authoritative data set comes from direct reports from Coalition units dispatched to the scene of major incidents, such as car bombs and small arms fire. Since this reporting is invariably incomplete (minor incidents such as executions and random killings are usually not investigated by Coalition units), MNF-I tops up the data with "host nation" statistics, such as morgue and police reports.
* The data collected directly by Coalition units (see graph below) show a much more modest reduction in Iraqi civilian deaths since last December than the data presented to Congress by Petraeus.
* Petraeus's spokesman, Colonel Steven A. Boylan, acknowledges the "host nation" data used by MNF-I statisticians is frequently "unverified" and "possibly inflated." In an email, he raised a particular red flag about the "host nation" data for December 2006, the base line for Petraeus's claim of an "over 45-percent drop" in Iraqi civilian deaths. He said that the December 2006 data contained "a large number of unverified host nation reports of dead civilians."
* An analysis of the Iraqi civilian death toll by the unofficial London-based group, Iraq Body Count shows a much smaller decline over the period cited by Petraeus. According to Iraq Body Count's latest figures, the civilian war-related death toll declined from around 2,600 to around 2,200 over this period, a drop of roughly fifteen percent.
* There is little evidence to support claims of an actual increase in civilian deaths over the last eight or nine months, other than on an individual month-by-month basis.

Over the last month, a lively debate has erupted in both the media and the think tank community over the statistical methodology employed by the U.S. military in calculating civilian body counts.

In a September 6 article in The Washington Post, my colleague Karen DeYoung revealed deep divisions within the U.S. government over how to interpret violence statistics. She followed up on September 25 with a detailed look at how the U.S. military defines "sectarian killings," a
subset of the overall civilian casualty statistics. The coverage prompted fierce debates, with liberal think tanks, such as the Center for American Progress, weighing in with their views, and the conservative Heritage Foundation posting its analysis here. Most recently, the Council on Foreign Relations has published a statistical analysis of the Petraeus data, and an online debate featuring two experts, one of whom sides broadly with Petraeus (with some reservations) and the other who argues flatly that "violence in Iraq is not going down."

The following graph, provided by MNF-I and published here for the first time, helps us deconstruct the civilian death statistics Petraeus delivered in his testimony to Congress. (A larger-size version of the graph is here.)

[Chart: Iraqi civilian casualties]

To understand the significance of this graph, it is necessary to explain the meaning of each line.

* The blue line in the center represents the Iraqi civilian death data used by Petraeus in his September 10-11 testimony to Congress. It corresponds to Slide Three in his presentation and provided the basis for his "over 45 percent drop" claim. It includes data verified by Coalition forces plus verified and "unverified" data supplied by the Iraqi government.
* The orange line at the top represents civilian casualties, including both dead and injured, reported directly by Coalition forces. A version of these figures appeared in an "Average Daily Casualties in Iraq" chart submitted to Congress this month by the Department of Defense. See the full report here.
* The yellow line at the bottom represents Iraqi civilian death data collected and verified by coalition forces. As far as we are aware, it has never been published before.

As a guide to the true situation in Iraq, each line has its pluses and minuses. As you might expect, the orange and yellow lines show similar trends, although the orange casualty line shows greater movement than the yellow death line. But they are also incomplete, as they omit most minor incidents, such as individual murders and executions. By including unverified, "possibly inflated" data, the blue line shows a much steeper decline in the death toll over the period Petraeus highlighted than the yellow line below.

The mix and match procedures used by MNF-I to combine the coalition-verified deaths and "unverified" host nation reports require further investigation. The methods used for adjusting the Coalition-reported figures are unclear. An analysis of a chart provided by MNF-I shows that military statisticians added some 1,750 "host nation reported deaths" to the coalition-verified baseline in December 2006. In August 2006, by contrast, at the end of Petraeus's reporting period to Congress, only 500 "host nation reported" deaths were included. Over the same time-frame, Coalition-reported deaths fell only modestly, from around 1,250 to around 1,050.

Boylan defended the use of the blue line by Petraeus in his testimony to Congress by saying that it was "as close as we can get to total truth on dead civilians...We used this data to ensure that there can be no claims as to cherry-picking or deflating data by only using Coalition reporting/data as we incorporated host nation data into the testimony. Petraeus purposefully chose to use the higher (and possibly inflated) blue line data to avoid any charge that he was trying to make everything look good or more positive. This is as realistic as it comes."

Boylan declined several requests to explain the dramatic 70 percent drop in "host-nation reported" deaths between December 2006 and August 2007. He said it was difficult to "get to the level [of detail] you wish" without a personal visit by the Fact Checker to Baghdad. He invited the Fact Checker to come to Baghdad "for a week" to sit down with military number-crunchers. The Fact Checker replied that he is ready to accept the invitation but needs the approval of his editors.

For the sake of fairness, we are posting Boylan's initial September 22 statement in full here.

A detailed unofficial examination of the death toll among Iraqi civilians is offered by Iraq Body Count, an independent, London-based organization that bases its analysis on multiple media reports. The IBC data has formed the basis for the tracking of civilian deaths in Iraq by the Brookings Institution in its widely consulted Iraq Index. An analysis of the last eighteen months of Iraqi death toll figures compiled for the Fact Checker by IBC diverges at times from the "blue line" data used by Petraeus. Like the "orange line" data, it suggests a much smaller drop in Iraqi casualties since a peak in October-November 2006 than the "blue line" data.

[Chart: Iraqi civilian casualties, reported by the Department of Defense, Petraeus and Iraq Body Count]

Here is what John Sloboda, executive director of Iraq Body Count, has to say about the Petraeus testimony to Congress:

"It is interesting that there is general agreement between Iraq Body Count and Petraeus/MNF-I up until December 2006. Our figures are usually higher than theirs -- we may be including some things they are perhaps not, like the deaths of some Iraqi policemen -- but our peaks and troughs coincide with Petraeus/MNF-I very clearly for most of 2006. Then, quite abruptly, in December 2006, the Petraeus numbers rise above ours for the first time. But as soon as the surge begins, they plunge way below our level.
"Our methods have been consistent throughout. Why the sudden discrepancy? Is the reason for it purely technical? It's hard to tell from the graphs alone. We can provide documentary backup for every one of our figures, day by day, incident by incident. It is impossible to fully assess the Petraeus figures unless the data which lies behind it is revealed, on an incident-by-incident basis. Only then could one compare the two sets of data and nail down the source and nature of this discrepancy.
"It is, of course, welcome that the Pentagon is finally taking account of Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries in a methodical manner. However, unless this is done as transparently as possible, doubts over their validity may be all that these graphs engender."

The analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations claims that Iraq Body Count data show a steeper decline in Iraqi civilian deaths during the first eight months of 2007 than data used by MNF-I. The author of the Council's report, Stephen Biddle, said in an interview, however, that he had relied on old Iraq Body Count data downloaded from the Internet rather the most recent data endorsed by the organization. Iraq Body Count agrees that there has been some decline in civilian deaths since December, but says that it is less pronounced than claimed by MNF-I.

Data collected by the Washington Post Baghdad bureau from the Iraqi Health Ministry show an even steeper rate of decline in the civilian death toll than that cited by Petraeus. The Post data reflect bodies delivered to morgues, excluding bodies buried directly by families. It is noteworthy that the Post data show a drop in civilian deaths between July and August 2007, a month that witnessed massively destructive suicide attacks against Yazidi villages in northern Iraq. (According to the international humanitarian organization Red Crescent, the Yazidi attacks claimed at least five hundred lives.) The Baghdad bureaus of several other prominent news organizations, including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Reuters reported an increase in Iraqi civilian deaths over the same two months. One possible explanation for the disrepancy is that many Yazidi families buried their dead directly, rather than sending them to morgues, but this too requires further investigation.


SOURCES: Unofficial data from Iraqi Health Ministry | The Washington Post - September 5, 2007

Questions can also be raised about Clinton's claim that "overall, civilian deaths have risen" in Iraq. She was imprecise about exactly what period she was talking about. She was reading almost verbatim from a Center for American Progress report that addressed the general situation in Iraq since the beginning of the new surge strategy in January 2007. Asked to provide factual support for the senator's remarks, the Clinton campaign cited this September 2 article in the New York Times. But the article talks only about a rise in civilian deaths Iraq-wide between July and August this year, accompanied by a fall in civilian deaths in Baghdad. A Clinton spokesman, Philippe Reines, now says the senator was speaking about "the month prior to the delivery of the [Petraeus] report to Congress."

We give the last word (for now) to Colonel Boylan:

"We completely stand by our data as the most robust and accurate data available. We have no reason to falsely report any of this and constantly strive to improve both collection and analysis."

(UPDATED Oct 1, 1:22 p.m. ET: After this item was posted, Boylan contacted the Fact Checker to say that he sent an e-mail message on September 27 (last Thursday) offering a phone interview with a statistical expert from MNF-I, in addition to written statements already provided. The Fact Checker never received this e-mail. He first requested such a briefing on September 21. MNF-I now says it will make the chief of its statistical assessments office available for an interview on Tuesday. We will keep you informed.)

The Pinocchio Test

This issue is too complex for a snap Pinocchio rating. In this case, our goal is to shed light on a complicated statistical debate, rather than slap Pinocchio or Geppetto labels on either Petraeus or Clinton. There will be plenty of opportunity on this site to debate and question the Fact Checker's methodology, including a planned "Ask the Fact Checker" open forum.

MNF-I's readiness to collect Iraqi civilian death data and answer questions about its methodology contrasts with the position taken by former Centcom commander Gen. Tommy Franks who declared during the Afghan war, "we don't do body counts." (News conference, Bagram Air Base, March 2002.) The American military appears to have definitively abandoned the "Tommy Franks doctrine" of civilian casualty statistics.

But without more information from MNF-I on the methods used to combine American and Iraqi data, it is impossible to tell whether Petraeus is "cooking the books," in the charged language of the recent MoveOn.org ad. The jury is still out, but the debate is well underway.

Useful Links

* Congressional Research Service report on Iraq civilian deaths

* Council on Foreign Relations statistical analysis by Stephen Biddle

* Council on Foreign Relations debate on whether violence is going down in Iraq

* White House Iraq Fact Check: Responding to Key Myths

* September 2007 report on Iraqi benchmarks by the General Accountability Office.

* Analysis by former U.S. statistician in Baghdad (posted on Heritage Foundation Web site)

By washingtonpost.com Editors  | October 1, 2007; 8:01 AM ET
Categories:  Gov Watch, Iraq, Verdict Pending  
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Comments

All of the graphs, irrespective of their source show an increase in casualties from the summer of 2006 when compared to the summer of 2007. Taking the data back further would indicate how much of a role seasonality plays and may well offer a better means of assessment of casualty trends.

Posted by: Urbi | October 1, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

This article ignores the most reliable---and only scientific---means of calculating deaths, which is the household surveys conducted independently by two different organizations. The first, a team of epidemiologists and MDs from Iraq and Johns Hopkins, conducted two surveys, both published in The Lancet (Oct 04 and Oct 06), the second of which found 601,000 deaths from the violence of the war (all Iraqis, not just civilians). The second organization, a respected private polling firm in the UK, ORB, recently found more than 1 million deaths. These house-to-house surveys are more accurate than the woefully incomplete methods of "passive surveillance," which are what all those mentioned in this article rely upon. One simply does not know what is not being counted, and therefore the numbers are essentially without any value, apart from trend lines.

These larger numbers, which are subject to wide margins of probability, track much more closely with other things we know---4.5 million displaced, >1 million widows, etc. We also know from past wars that news accounts miss around 80% of fatalities in real time.

You do not serve your readers---or the public debate---well by ignoring the only statistically meaningful studies of mortality.
See: http://web.mit.edu/cis/human-cost-war-101106.pdf

Posted by: John Tirman | October 1, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Seconding John Tirman's comments above. I'll add that the Hopkin's studies he cites are all peer reviewed. Also,Iraq Body Count has consistently said that their figures are almost certainly understated because of their methodology. Given the hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees, the last few years have been a catastrophe of historic proportions for many parts of Iraq.

Posted by: dortuna | October 1, 2007 10:30 AM | Report abuse

do we need anymore evidence that his column is gop ,pro killing iraqis bias?

Posted by: barb | October 1, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

The article is a good one, but your conclusion blinked:

From your post on Edwards:
"While the Edwards campaign can certainly produce polls showing that their candidate is ahead in head-to-head matchups with individual Republicans, so can Clinton and Obama. The polling data is all over the map at this point. We award Edwards two Pinocchios for wild exaggeration.

Rewording that a bit:
"While [General Petraeus] can certainly produce [casualty figures] showing that [casualty figures support his judgment of the surge], so can Clinton and Obama. The [casualty figures are] all over the map at this point. We award [General Petraeus] two Pinocchios for wild exaggeration.

I don't think this was a partisan blinking, but for the Fact Checker column to really elevate the level of accuracy in political reporting, you're going to need to apply the same scale to highly controversial calls as you do to easier statements.

Presenting only the data most supportive of your cause without explaining yourself or acknowledging opposing data is no different than what the Edward's campaign did.

In fairness you could also say that Hillary Clinton was cherry picking her figures. That said, General Petreaus, much like John Edward's pollsters, is not a disinterested third party. He is making a case defending his own performance. The burden of proof is on him.

Posted by: Greg Sanders | October 1, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

This is like asking Ken Lay to provide all the data for investigating the Enron scandal and then questioning, why would Ken Lay lie? Mike Dobbs has again proven that he is an idiot who can't deliver the goods. Or maybe he knows who pays his salary. In any case, his column has become a sad joke.

Posted by: Joe | October 1, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't know to what third rate school Mr. Dobbs went, but he of all people should know you can't set a trend with only a year's worth of data. Why not trend it for 4 years and let the chips fall where they might? Or would that expose his idol Petreaus as a fraudster?

Posted by: John | October 1, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

"This issue is too complex for a snap Pinocchio rating. In this case, our goal is to shed light on a complicated statistical debate, rather than slap Pinocchio or Geppetto labels on either Petraeus or Clinton."

Hmmm, and things were perfectly clear when it came time to render a verdict on the moveon.org ad? You said "The data [moveon.org] they do cite is itself open to challenge." And why, pray tell, do you never say the same thing about Petraues' data?

Moveon.org also claimed that "Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows; Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war."

Your response: "The Iraq war may or may not be winnable. But it is incorrect to claim that "everyone knows" it is "unwinnable.""

Since no one has clearly defined what 'winning' actually looks like, it seems to me that this claim richly deserved the "This issue is too complex for a snap Pinocchio rating" comment. Too bad you didn't feel similar levels of restraint when it came time to judge Moveon.org.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | October 1, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dobbs should change the name fo his colume from fact checker to 'muddling the information to help the administration because the washington post pays my salary'. After this joke, people will have time believing anything this moron will have to say. If you claim to be a fact checker, your methodology should be beyound reproach and able to withstand criticism. I think we all agree Michael Dobbs has failed to provide us that level of analyses.

Posted by: Craig Jones | October 1, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I do appreciate the detail with which this column is written, but agree in particular with John Tirman that the carefully collected and analyzed Johns Hopkins data must be considered.

Posted by: Crispin Pierce | October 1, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Good article, much better than the mostly inane comments it's so far received. Aside from comments 1 and 5, which at least address something about the issues raised, the rest are self-interested blusterings:

MoveOn fans pissed off about something else, a guy who thinks Dobbs is an evil jerk unless he titles his piece "Petraeus the big fat liar", and a guy who funded the Lancet study (John Tirman) trying to peddle his study still more where it isn't even relevant.

The article indicates that Petraeus' data seems to give a rather glowing account of huge improvements since the surge, and this is incosistent with some other (better supported) data in this respect. As one of the few relevant comments above noted, "The burden of proof is on him." Assertion that data is reliable isn't enough, even when the person asserting it has a nice uniform and medals.

Posted by: trudyj | October 1, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Trudyj....who I suspect is the real Mike Dobbs, who died and made you the expert on anything? We're just calling a spade a spade, and Dobbs (if it's not you) has lost all credibility to call himself a fact checker.

Posted by: Craig Jones | October 1, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

jesus!
does this guy have any shame?!
the comment about this issue being too complex to rate took my breath away!
while the issue is too complex for this fact check, he freely jumped all over moveon with no hesitancy, even though both obviously covered the same issues and numbers.
does he really think readers are too stupid to recognize the stunning inconsistency?

Posted by: frankie d | October 1, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I wonder... I can see some justification for the pro and con comments. At least it hasn't gotten to adolescent name calling like so many other comment sections on the WP recently.

But isn't the larger issue; what do the number of dead people have to do with the situation? If it is about reducing civilian deaths in Iraq we could accomplish that in a large part by leaving thereby winning if we use dead bodies as the win/loss marker.
Or perhaps live with a large number of dead in say October by using tactical nukes and the the reduction in November and past would be dramatically lowered again allowing us to declare victory, leave and stop the majority of civilian casualties.

War would be great and perhaps entertaining if all we used were charts and graphs. Truly Petraeus is a honorable man in all likelihood but we must remember the rules change when you reach the rank of Col. or so. Politics is the rule of the day and the General has been chosen to supply concrete supports for the badly sagging house. He is PR'd to be this great battle hardened warrior who wrote the book on counterinsurgency. This is blatantly untrue. He served with a highly awarded airborne and air assault infantry division. His medals on his chest sadly are missing the perhaps, most highly respected and to a lot of infantry grunts only medal that accounts for anything. The Combat Infantry Badge. It is received only after having been in a combat action. I am not knocking the General. As I said he has the utmost respect in my book, however in an infantry unit the CIB is a recognition of the best of the best irrespective of rank. A sign that you have been and can be trusted with your very life. There are other combat awards for non infantry folks and they also are just as well respected. However in an infantry unit is a special medal.

The general is going to get slammed as the sacrificial goat. The number of dead bodies is irrelevant. The cause for the dead bodies in terms of morality is in the end the only result that means anything.

I served in two war time conflicts, Viet Nam and Gulf War I. There is nothing among the dead that justifies the end. Yes, I have two Combat Infantry Badges (actually one with a second star) and I served in the 101st Airborne Infantry unit that the general has served in. Just a differing opinion on the numbers and how they are not respected when they are reported. Keeping a count is not that complex. You are dead or you are not. There should be no variance in the numbers if we respect those that are killed. To use them to garner an advantage is prostitution at its finest level.

Posted by: RetCombatVet | October 1, 2007 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey Dobbs, here's a fact for ya. Only 2 people support you out of 15 posts. Knowing you, you're probably gonna argue that these two people have it right, and the other 13 have it wrong...because they support you. You're just a hack like all those polsters who show up in Faux News. Maybe you should go work for them.

Posted by: Mark | October 1, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

trudyj - good point. Unless the article Dobbs writes agrees with their own extreme bias, they dismiss it out of hand (like Craig J and frankie d. and others here) They make Hitler look like a beacon of tolerance. Where did they excellently fine tune that whining?

Posted by: emma | October 1, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

my concerns about this so-called fact checker have everything to do with his double standard and nothing to do with intolerance.
what is truly disturbing is that a paper that was once a true gem - we should never forget their watergate reporting - is now reduced to being an apologist for the bush administration.
consistently, the post pulls its punches when referring to or reporting on the bush administration.
from this so-called fact check to embarrassing editorials that essentially beg president bush to stop acting like a third world despot.
when will the post start acting like a newspaper with a backbone, and not a paper that is afraid to call a spade a spade.
it takes absolutely no guts to dump on the president of iran or moveon. it takes lots more nerve to report candidly about this administration.
golly, they might even get that dinner invite from the white house cancelled!! we can't have that...not in the name of good and accurate and complete reporting!

Posted by: frankie d | October 1, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

For those who really think that the Johns Hopkins study is worth anything, you should really read what the anti-war web site Iraq Body Count has to say about it. They are anti-war, but they haven't yet lost their marbles. You can find their analysis here.

Posted by: John | October 1, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

why, may I ask, did you even BOTHER writing this article?

You can't even do what you're claiming is your only function; check the facts and determine where truth is being spoken.

Do you work for the Government? Maybe the Air Force??

Because of these three parties involved, Petraus, Clinton, and Dobbs in this article, none of you can come up with anything definitive.

nothing but bleah, bleah, bleah.

sorry - you each of you get a pair of donkey ears, according to my rating system.

Check that fact.

Posted by: Headin da Sand | October 1, 2007 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Craig Jones says: "Trudyj....who I suspect is the real Mike Dobbs"

Paranoid much?

Posted by: trudyj | October 1, 2007 8:31 PM | Report abuse

A point on the stats. The civilian death rate is somewhat secondary to the question of the insurgency, progress, or 'the surge'. As pointed out in the IED special report, it's important to know the primary stats like the number of IED's planted and detonated. Another secondary stat is the number of casualties that come about from an IED since that is dependent on the location of the bomb, the type of US vehicle that gets hit and more.

From the primary stats (like IEDs identified/detonated) we know that the number of planted bombs has doubled since last year. That tells us something more than the number of US casualties. I always get cranky thinking about the stories from early on when US troops were picked off just walking around a local market; random locals were able to sneak up and take potshots. Now, we have MRAPs and up-armored humvees, bullet proof glass in observation towers, and whatnot plus better practices....but we are still losing roughly the same number of troops each month. That suggests that the asymmetry is *not* working in our favor.

It also says that we shouldn't be too clever trying to come up with the wrong measures of performance which don't really tell us much beyond sensational, headline grabbing numbers.

Posted by: CriticalThought | October 1, 2007 9:49 PM | Report abuse

The operational definition of a "civilian" can affect these statistics greatly. As long as the people being blown up by aerial bombardment are "terrorists", "insurgents", or "militants", we can continue to assert that we are reducing the violence. I have flown in B1B's and F16's and I have fired an AK47 and I will tell you that a fully armed B1 bomber or F16 can kill a lot more people than an AK47.

Posted by: joseph kenny | October 1, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

If Pentagon stats could only show an increase in civilian deaths over the course of the year no matter how they are sliced and diced, Petraeus wouldn't have mentioned them and we would not be talking about them.

Posted by: david | October 2, 2007 12:37 AM | Report abuse

If Pentagon stats could only show an increase in civilian deaths over the course of the year no matter how they are sliced and diced, Petraeus wouldn't have mentioned them and we would not be talking about them.

Posted by: david | October 2, 2007 12:38 AM | Report abuse

Two observations:

In February of '06 we had 138k troops in Iraq, and less then a thousand civilians killed per month. Now we have 30k more troops and at least twice that number of deaths. (That statement is no more fallacious then the Generals claims of a 40% reduction.)

According to the "Coalition" provided data, which seems as reliable as those famous Vietnam body counts(snark), the ratio of people injured to people killed changes significantly right about the time General Petraeus knows he is going to testify before Congress on the effects of the surge in September. Perhaps this is due to increased diligence on the part of thoughtful Iraqi civilians to not die from injuries and thus make the Bush administration look bad.

Posted by: Paulie200 | October 2, 2007 3:17 AM | Report abuse

In February, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned against setting any kind of deadline for Iraq. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, he said, "I cannot guarantee you success, but I can promise you this: The day you set timelines and deadlines, it's lost in Iraq."

Nine months later, Graham is setting a timetable for Iraq:

Graham told Time Wednesday that the Iraqi leaders have 90 days to start resolving their political differences with real legislative agreements or face a change in strategy by the U.S. "If they can't do it in 90 days," he said, "it means the major players don't want to." [...]

Graham, who is up for re-election in 2008, said he will not wait forever. "If they can't pull it together in the next 90 days," he said, "I don't think they are ever gonna do it." He followed that prediction with a promise: "If they don't deliver in 90 days, I will openly say the chances for political reconciliation are remote." [...]

"If they can't do it by the end of the year," he said, "how do you justify a continued presence?"

Posted by: Anonymous | October 2, 2007 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Just a note to set the record straight on the CFR analysis cited in the essay: the "out of date" information from Iraq Body Count that Mr. Dobbs chides us for relying upon was the most current information actually available when we did the analysis. IBC periodically updates their dataset, which means that anyone who uses what they post may later be inconsistent with any subsequent updates. But we used the best data available at the time. I might add that we surveyed a much wider range of sources than just IBC, and our findings were not especially dependent on the IBC data in particular, as should be evident from the essay we posted. The updated IBC data would change part (but not all) of the IBC aspect of the essay, but none of the rest, nor would it materially change our overall findings.

Posted by: Stephen Biddle | October 2, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Bottom Line is that Gen Petraeus was fudging the numbers the same way Bush has since the beginning of this war. The good soldier lied on the orders of his commander in chief. I have no respect for either liar. I wonder how an Iraqi whose family had just been murdered would react to this mumbo-jumbo BS method for determining progress based on deaths of Iraqis. "Oh we are so grateful the Americans have explained to me that my family who were murdered by Shiite Militia was not a sectarian violence murder. Praise Be to Allah!

Posted by: tom | October 2, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Factchecker needs to add to his facts because some additional information has come to light. Iraq Body Count has now provided an estimate for September as well, as I explain here. According to them, casualties are down by more than 50% compared to January. Factchecker should add that point to his chart.

What this means is that:

(a) General Petraeus was right (i.e., his numbers correctly detected a rapidly declining trend in civilian casualties)

--or--

(b) General Petraeus was cooking the books," but he was also clairvoyant (in that he accurately foresaw what would happen the very next month).

Take your pick.

Posted by: Engram | October 3, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Engram, the MNF-I/Petraeus numbers don't even include September, so you can't compare September numbers to them.

If there was a September decline, this can't say anything about whether the MNF-I/Petraeus figures properly reflect the months they cover (to August), or whether this "45% decline" in those months was true to the facts on the ground.

It can not support either your "a" or your "b".

And September alone can not be considered to indicate a trend anyway. It's one month.

Posted by: trudyj | October 3, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

'petra2' writes:
I've always voted Republican in elections -- going all the way back to Reagan. And guess what, barring something unforeseen, I'm planning to pull the lever for Hillary in November of 2008 (and yes, folks, I know there's that little matter of her having to win the nomination). I like Obama, too, but he's frankly a bit too far to the left for me. John Edwards just seems tired, and all the Republicans running are incredible pander bears (pandering to the extreme right wing, that is). It is somewhat disconcerting to have yet another dynasty member as our next president. But the times we live in are too critical NOT to choose the best person for the job. I don't care if she's not warm, or not spontaneous, or not likable. Dogonnit, she's clearly the most polished, intelligent, hard-working, well-prepared, and competent candidate running. We can't settle for anything else. I'm personally hoping for a Hillary-Obama ticket in 2008.

'freespeak' writes:
The question is, can anyone stop Clinton?
I say, if they can, now is the time to step up to the plate. She just did five talk shows in one day and hit it out of the ballpark.
Batter up?
I'm a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton (and an Independent from New Hampshire).
I don't understand who these people are, who have these 'HORRIBLE' memories of the nation under the leadership of Bill Clinton.
When Clinton left office, 70% of the nation thought we were going in the right direction.
Currently, 70% of the nation thinks we're going in the WRONG direction.
Oh!
The people who have bad memories of the Clinton years think Bush is doing' a heckuva job!
I get it.

'charly_n' writes:
After the 2006 midterm election, I think Hillary couldn't choose a more perfect year to run for president.
The whole country is now leaning toward Democrats. People are just so unhappy and fed up with the Republican Party which has controlled the country for almost 8 years now. Any Democrats (yes even Hillary) has better chance to win 2008 presidency than any republican. I don't see all these unhappy Americans who clearly want a change in direction in 2006 would vote for another republican again over Hillary.
In 2006, we all saw a lot of good republicans lost their seats to some never-heard-before Democrats because of this effect.
I'm certain that Hillary will prove everybody wrong and she will become the first woman President.

'jnurse' writes:
All you Hillary haters on here are just mad because your candidates have been getting stomped by her for almost a year now. Underestimate her at your own expense. The woman is brilliant, and more politically skilled than her husband. In the general election, she is going to do the Republicans, what she has done to her fellow Democrats for the past year, and that is make them luck unprepared to lead the free world. In November 08, voters are going to be faced with a choice: vote to make history with electing the first woman and also change the course of the past 8 years, or vote for more of the same with a boring white male who backs all of Bush's policies. I think that we have 51% of America that will vote for the former. If you disagree, just wait and see. Her campaign has been flawless, and will continue as such... Enjoy the shadow.

'winngerald' writes:
petera1, no one could say it better than you did! The Republicans view her as a "bogeyman" because she fights back against their smears...and because they have sunk way below their previous depths to a point where they have NO positives to run on...they depend on nothing more than the modern equivalent of inciting mobs with pitchforks and torches into voting AGAINST anything/anyone from gays to non-Christians to communism to deficits (at least until Darth Cheney declared that deficits are GOOD when they're run up by Republicans) to Bill Clinton. I think their formerly mindless followers are wising up to the fact that their party has not been their friend. The left-wing fringe Democrats are so desperate to put a rehabilitated image of "liberalism" on a pedestal that they aren't bothering to notice that the nation isn't becoming, necessarily, more "liberal" as much as it is becoming "anti-right-wing-conservative"...and they hang their hats on my--yes MY--Senator Obama to be their champion without bothering to look at his actual history here in Illinois. He is NOT exactly a "liberal", and he hasn't proven that he can LEAD, let alone be an executive. You can't base your entire candidacy on a) not supporting the Iraq invasion during your tenure in the Illinois State Senate (which can't even manage to do the State's business right now), and b) NOT being Hillary. Edwards would be in the single digits were it not for sympathy for his wife (if it weren't for her tragic cancer, she'd make a better candidate), and ALL of the Republican candidates are flip-flopping jokes worse than fish just pulled out of the water.
You are absolutely right in pointing out Hillary's reelection support in highly-Republican Upstate New York...THEY have had her representing them for almost 8 years, and their Republican support of her says all that needs to be said. Her Republican Senate colleagues speak highly of her, too...she is OBVIOUSLY NOT a polarizing figure, but the fringes in both parties still try to paint her as one for the very simple reason that they are trying to beat her in the upcoming elections...and because she DOES know what she's talking about and DOES have more than basic competence, the only way they can beat her is to plant the red herring that many people have preconceived notions of not liking her. They are TRYING to scare support away from her without letting people see her for herself...without her being filtered and framed by the fringes of both parties. And they seem to forget that Bush was reelected with some very high negatives...people are so numbed by the partisan sniping of the past 12 years and incompetence of the past 6 years that personal negatives don't matter to them nearly as much as much as intelligence and competence do.
I hope that these people start pulling their heads out of their backsides pretty darned quick...and stop living in the past...and stop spewing the old venom that no one is interested in hearing anymore. The Nation has work to do, and no one is better versed, better educated, and better qualified to lead it out of the Republican-created nightmare...ready to roll up sleeves and get to work on Day 1...than Hillary. And when she DOES get elected, I hope that the Republicans give her the deference due her as President that they never gave her husband but expected for his successor for the 8 years to which we have been subjugated. They had their chance, and they've perverted everything they've touched. It's time for a woman to clean the White House!

'jmmiller' writes:
"As a moderate Republican, I find the remarks about Hillary being too divisive either unreflective or disingenuous. Of all the Democratic candidates, she is the one I would consider voting for because she is the only one who takes seriously America's role in the wider world. It strikes me that a lot of the animosity towards her is from the far left that wants to return to the labor glory days of the 1930's. They're upset because she won't hew to the MoveOn orthodoxy. The netroots who are drunk now with their power better get some religion soon - a perception that the Democratic nominee is too closely associated with them will be poison in the general election."

'ogdeeds' writes:
jeez...get over it...for every nasty accusation hurled at Clinton, you can find an equally nasty (if that is how some choose to see it) issue in someone else. All this talk about her taking big $ from corporations, etc.....it is what she does with it that matters. Mostly what I hear her talking about is helping families, children, and the middle class. And oh, by the way, she also has to be president to all those other groups (lawyers, lobbyists, teachers, carpenters, rich CEOs, etc., etc.)Which some of you may or may not like, you know, like other Americans? The last thing we need is another president who only wants to be president to his base. Clinton is inclusive, and will lead for the good of all Americans as well as putting our country back where we deserve to be....respected and (jealously) admired, both for our greatness, and for the goodness we represent...and let me tell you, goodness does not include invading other countries under the guise of "protecting America" - just so one uninformed and ideological president can play out his ideological fantasies of 'transforming the middle east'...what a joke (instead of going after bin laden, the one who attacked us on 9/11 - oops, sorry, some of you still believe Iraq was connected to 9/11) we need someone like Hillary...thoughtful, knowledgeable and smart.

'wesfromGA' writes:
One has to smile at all the "I'll never vote for her" postings. If you are a Republican you were never going to vote for her anyway, if you are one of the distinct minority of Hillary haters on the left of the Democratic Party the essential silliness of this position will soon become apparent if she gets the nod. On present evidence this seems highly likely much to the chagrin of Mr. Balz and the media world who want a horse race because it sells newspapers and air time which is why there is all the parsing in his piece although he accepts the most likely outcome. Absent a major slip up there seems little doubt she has it wrapped up. Contrary to some assertions above she does not do conspicuously worse than Edwards or Obama against any member of the Republican field. On the contrary she does better than either of them and while they have been stuck for months in the mid twenties and mid teens for months she has steadily improved her position and has now been sitting in the low forties for weeks. In Iowa she has come from behind and leads in most polls. Why? Because she is self evidently the best candidate. She has a formidable machine, plenty of money and a few more difficult to pin down advantages like Gender and the presence of Bill who is widely respected much to the chagrin of the right.
The right must have choked over their coffee when Greenspan recently gave Bill stellar grades and of course they responded as they always do by launch personal attacks (there's a typical example in today's post from Novak).
There is no question she is going to get the nomination and a 60% chance she's going to win the presidency. Even some right wingers like Karl Rove are gloomily admitting it.
All the negative comments about Hillary on this board are from disgruntled Republicans who do not have a great choice in their party and will elect a nominee called "none of the above" because Republicans will stay home in 2008.
What a stark contrast there is in the Republican nomination and the Democratic nomination campaigns. Republicans know fully well after G. W. Bush we can only have a Democratic President and its going to be Hillary this time!
People and the writer of this article give undue importance to the Iowa caucus. Isn't it time to break the back of this myth of Iowa's importance? They haven't picked a winner since 1976. And Clinton and Kerry won the democratic nominations without winning in Iowa. Enough with the rural pandering.
I fondly remember the Bill Clinton administration years as pretty good ones in spite of the personal attacks from the right. The personal problems were Bill's not Hillary's. She had to deal with him and the public and she did it expertly with a win as a junior Senator in NY and a re-election where she won 67% of the vote, with 58 of 62 counties including the MOSTly Republican "red" counties in upstate NY.
In the General election Hillary will beat the pants off any Republican nominee trying to keep us fighting the Iraq war.
People forget that Giuliani dropped out in that first Senate race not because of prostate cancer, but because he saw the writing on the wall, which was a certain defeat and an end to his political dreams.
We may have the re-match that we never had. Rudy vs. Hillary. Single point campaign of 9-11 against well rounded Hillary.
When Bill Clinton left the White House we were a nation at peace, we had a sizable surplus, we had a growing economy, and today he is the most popular politician in the nation if not the world.
Maybe that is not such a bad thing to return to. But the reality is that Hillary is not Bill. She is by all accounts smarter and definitely won't have the personal problems that Bill had. She is a master politician and is becoming a master speaker as attested to by looking at her in some of her live appearances and on yesterday's sweep of the Sunday news shows.
It is Hillary's time and it is the time for a woman to be the US President. It is time to break the highest glass ceiling in the US. I predict that many Republican women will join because they have said "I have never voted or never voted for a Democrat in my life, but if Hillary is the candidate and I have the chance to see a woman US President in my lifetime, Hillary will have my vote!"
People underestimate the positive change that will occur around the world in the way the United States is viewed when we elect Hillary. She will be symbol for women everywhere.
It's time to give up the sniping and for some women to stop venting their jealousy, which is really what it is when they complain not about her policies but about her personal choices as relates to Bill.
It's time to think about the nation and Hillary will be good for the nation and the world.

'jmartin' writes:
For people that say Hillary unelectable? Let's see.
The current Post-ABC poll says it all. She leads all the Presidential candidates in BOTH parties as far as popularity goes. In the September 2007 poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Hillary 49% vs. Rudy 42%. Hillary 50% vs. Fred Thompson 41%. Hillary 51% vs. Romney 38%.
September 2007 poll by CNN/Opinion Research Corp.: Hillary 50% vs. Rudy 46%, Hillary 55% vs. Fred Thompson 42%. Same poll, Obama 45% vs. Rudy 49%. Obama 53% vs. Fred Thompson 41%.
Inevitable? Perhaps not. Unelectable? Not that either.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Polls, polls, polls, everywhere, but some have stop light on them. Hillary is a stop light. As a very liberal Democrat, I just can't imagine another 4 to 8 years of downward spiral for America.

I only hope that Ralph Nader runs again.

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Posted by: Major Herrera | October 16, 2007 9:46 PM | Report abuse

The civilian death toll has dropped due to the partition of Iraq into homogenized areas.
Also the Badr and Sadr factions appear to have a limited truce. Relying on the Iraqi government to end sectarian violence with a political solution will fail. A religious solution (10 year peace accord signed by all clerics under the Kabaa) may work if the leading immans agree to make hadj for this purpose.

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Posted by: Charisse Martin | October 17, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Still find it strange that only the "mention" of surge seems to reduce the civilian deaths. Or is everyine so blind that they did not see that the biggest drop in civilian casualties (even in Petraeus chart) was in January 2007, even before the surge was even deployed ?

Seems the trend was there already before the surge. A fleeing population and automatic segregation of ethnic societies will have most likely been larger contributors then the surge.

Regards from Belgium

Posted by: bilbosimca | October 18, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

What the hell is the matter with you Americans ? What does it matter if the current death count of Iraqi civilians rises or falls by 20-30% ? What matters in my view is that probably a half million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion, a million more being injury-disabled. Probably one third being women and children. Under Hussein no more than 10.000 Iraqis may have violently died each year.Under US-occupation that number is obviously many times higher! Some bargain in the name of (get this) democracy ! Get the hell out of Iraq ! A view from Germany.

Posted by: twerner | October 19, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

America's democracy is still coming out of the barrel of a gun. They're still cowboys.

Posted by: joop van de Swaluw | October 19, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Folks, this war is about money, big, big money. The only way the US military industrial complex of companies can make billions and billions of dollars every month is if there is a "war". They don't want to end it, they want to keep the billions flowing.
There are about 160,000 US troops in Iraq, this is not as many people as attend football games at two large stadiums. Do you think this is enough troops to establish order in an entire country? The "enemy" has no air force, no navy, no tanks, really no military, just mysterious "insurgents".
Unfortunately special interests are controlling the US government right now and we can only pray the people of the US can regain control of their government that is putting the interests of companies with billions and billions at stake above all else.
This is in no way a detraction from the men and women serving in the US military, but when the weapons of mass destruction were not found and Saddam Hussein was removed - the war should have been declared a victory and the US start a withdraw and let the Iraqi's work out their civil issues. But no - there's to much at stake - too much money at stake for big companies to make.
How much is spent on the war each month, http://zfacts.com/p/447.html
"The Pentagon's estimate of their monthly "burn rate" is about $6.8 Billion/month now, but it excludes funds for military equipment etc."
It doesn't take this much to finance 160,000 troops, the money is going to big companies - this is why there is no defined exit strategy or definition of what "victory" is. If the war ends the billions and billions and billions of dollars will stop. Unfortunately there are people who want to control other peoples business and countries supposedly in the "national interest" of the US and this will continue until the end of the current administration and no doubt beyond because it takes time to clean up a big mess. The quickest way to bring peace to Iraq is to leave.

Posted by: T Ruth | October 20, 2007 3:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to contradict many of of the comments you've gotten and thank you for this information.

For all of you who disagree, go to www.iraqbodycount.com

...and we'll see who's right.

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