Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

"The surge" not so successful as military / Iraqi government claims?

I tend to be a bit skeptical about rosy assessments without enough data to back them up, so I was curious whether someone out there in the press had played Devil's Advocate on the rosy claims made about the relative success so far of the surge operation in Iraq.

I found this well-formed criticism by Damien Cave of the New York Times to be of interest, in that it indicates a strong possibility that the Iraqi government are understating civilian casualties in Baghdad.

So, what potential overenthusiastic estimates are we seeing here, and what do they mean?

An Iraqi military spokesman claims that civilian deaths since the start of the plan were 265 in Baghdad, down from 1,440 in the four previous weeks, but his figures appear to be significantly in error. The New York Times has found more than 450 Iraqi civilians were killed during the same 28-day period, based on initial daily reports from Interior Ministry and hospital officials. Historically, the daily counts tallied by the NYT have underestimated the total death toll by 50 percent or more when compared to studies by the United Nations, which rely upon figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry and morgue figures. This suggests that the total figure for the last month was in excess of 700 civilians killed in Baghdad. Compare this to December, when the 544 civilians were reportedly killed in Baghdad, and we could be looking at a relatively minor change in the status quo. 

The fundamental criticism that I'm not hearing is whether the primary goal of the surge -- increasing Baghdad security -- is really a viable goal for success, any more than a relatively stable Kabul has been a viable solution for the conflict in Afghanistan. What it does do, however, is influence the Baghdad-based media. In that sense, it may allow the U.S. military to once more claim to have shifted their strategy to a "winning" course, which may buy them additional time to train Iraqi forces. Whether it actually stabilizes Baghdad -- or indeed, the rest of Iraq -- in any meaningful, lasting way is highly debatable.

Today in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement which urges Iraqis not to cooperate with U.S. forces, and to remain united against occupation. This was followed by what appears to be a protest by thousands of residents of Sadr City (more pictures here), and by the imposition of a curfew in Hilla south of Baghdad, apparently designed to prevent a similar large protest there.

U.S. forces cannot restore power, water, sanitation, or any other major service to large parts of Baghdad anytime soon, so it remains to be seen whether offering a modicum of security will really be enough to make the Iraqis content enough for "the surge" work, or whether, perhaps, the idea of the surge was doomed to failure even before it began.      

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