The public relations campaign ahead of the Surgin’ General’s report this September has been fierce. The White House and its surrogates have been beating the drums about the military successes of the "surge". Those who are opposed to Mr. Bush’s "surge" have been arguing that even though there has been military progress in Iraq, without political reconciliation the "surge" will have been a failure. Thus the battle lines in Washington have been drawn and the talking points drawn up. The White House, which previously had dismissed casualty counts as merely "snapshots", is now embracing a perceived lull in violence in Iraq in July.
One measure of the violence in Iraq is the death count. The death count does not tell the whole story of the ravaging of Iraq – to do that one has to consider the breakdown of civil society, the massive population flight out of Iraq, the ethnic cleansing and sectarian dismemberment of Iraq, etc. However, the White House and its allies have now hung their hat on the violence levels in Iraq to justify the surge. So let us look at the numbers.
In the seven months of the surge, January to July of 2007, the number of reported Iraqi civilian deaths was 13,236. In the same period (January to July) in 2006 the Iraqi civilian death toll was 5757. One might argue that violence in Iraq did not deteriorate until much later in 2006 after the February 2006 bombing of the al-Askari mosque in Samarra. So let us take a look at the numbers from the second part of 2006: in the seven months from June 2006 to December 2006 the number of Iraqi civilian deaths was 12,608. The surge has not reduced the number of civilian deaths, even compared to the second half of 2006.
The chart below shows a month-by-month comparison of Iraqi civilian deaths between 2006 and 2007:
The month-to-month trend in civilian deaths, with monthly spikes and lulls, is similar in 2007 as in previous years, the only difference is that more Iraqis are getting killed.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) death toll also does not show any improvement. In the seven months between January 2006 and July 2006 the number of ISF killed was 1238. Between January and July of this year the ISF death toll was 1383; between June 2006 and December 2006 the number of ISF killed was 1202.
The chart below shows a month-by-month comparison of ISF deaths between 2006 and 2007:
The surge has made no difference in death tolls for the ISF.
The US military death toll has been just as disheartening. The US military death toll between January 2006 and July 2006 was 397. In the seven months of the surge, between January 2007 and July 2007, the number of US military servicemen and women killed was 655. In the seven months between June 2006 and December 2006 the US military death toll was 529. The seven months of the surge have been bloodier for the US military than comparable periods in 2006.
The chart below shows a month-by-month comparison of US military deaths between 2006 and 2007:
The month-to-month death toll for the US military during the surge has been significantly greater than the same period in 2006. The White House and the proponents of the surge like to point to the reduction in US military deaths in June and July to bolster their claim that the surge is working. Yet, comparing the month-to-month trend between 2006 and 2007 we see that there was a similar decline in US military death toll in the same period last year, without the "surge". That lull last year gave way to a bloodier second half for the US military in 2006. More disheartening are the partial numbers from the month of August 2007and the increasing complexity of attacks against the US military. As was the case last year, we may indeed be headed into a bloody August in Iraq.
Looking at the death tolls in Iraq there is little cause for optimism. Iraq remains a very violent place. The numbers suggest that Iraq is more violent now than it was last year, in spite of the "surge". There is very little in the numbers to suggest that the surge is working, even by the very limited military goals the White House has set for its public relations gambit. It is a macabre game being played with real lives that have been lost. We need to ask ourselves if the numbers cited above are worth any more Friedman units.