VIOLENCE IN IRAQ….It’s buried on page A16, but at least it’s finally being covered: in the Washington Post today, Karen DeYoung takes a close look at violence figures in Iraq, and the headline tells the story:

Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq
Military Statistics Called Into Question

The piece is too detailed to excerpt, but the nickel version is pretty simple: even without taking seasonality into account (something DeYoung doesn’t address), there’s virtually no evidence that overall violence is down in Iraq. In fact, the evidence on this score is so overwhelming that the military has been reduced to complaining only that its critics aren’t including the latest August data, which suggests that Petraeus is indeed going to try to hang his whole case for progress on a single month’s numbers.

And even that number is dubious because it’s based solely on a drop in “sectarian violence.” Petraeus argues that sectarian violence is down 75% since last year, following a peak of about 1600 deaths in December. But virtually all of the drop came between December and February, before the surge had started, and even that drop is questionable thanks to dramatic and unexplained differences in various versions of Pentagon reports. See here for details. What’s more, even the intelligence community is skeptical of how the Pentagon counts “sectarian” violence:

Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” the official said. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”

Ilan Goldenberg summarizes: “So to recap. The violence numbers do not include: 1) Sunni on Sunni violence. 2) Shi’a on Shi’a violence 3) Car bombs 4) Getting shot in the front of the head.”

Pay attention, Congress. The time for tough questioning is now, not six months from now.