TRACKING THE SURGE….AP does its own tracking of violence in Iraq and has just released its report for July. Here’s a summary:

  • The overall death toll is down from its peak, but is still about double the rate from last summer.

  • A military spokesman differed, saying fatalities are at their lowest level since June 2006, but “offered no statistics to back his claim.”

  • As nearly everyone predicted, many of the insurgents have simply moved out of Baghdad into other areas: “Initial calculations validate fears that the Baghdad crackdown would push militants into districts north of the capital….In July, the AP figures show 35 percent of all war-related killings occurred in northern provinces. The figure one year ago was 22 percent.”

  • Residents are fleeing: “The number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.”

Take this for what it’s worth. Apparently, violence is down from its peak earlier this year, but since that’s the normal seasonal pattern it’s hard to say how meaningful it is.

In any case, it’s obvious that even the Pentagon isn’t putting any stock in these figures. In a briefing on Friday, Brig. Gen. Richard Sherlock warned that “insurgents might try intensify attacks in Iraq to coincide with three milestones: the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., the beginning of Ramadan and the report to Congress.” In others words, they know perfectly well that the recent decline is mostly seasonal and they expect the numbers to go back up later this year.

Bottom line: they’re simultaneously trying to suggest that the surge is responsible for the recent seasonal decline in fatalities and preemptively insisting that no one should blame the surge when seasonal deaths go back up in the fall. At least, that’s how it reads to me. Your mileage may vary.

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