OCTOBER IRAQ UPDATE….It’s the first of November, which means it’s time for our monthly update on violence in Iraq. Handily for me, Ned Parker of the LA Times has a pretty evenhanded story today on exactly that subject:

Iraq’s civilian body count in October was less than half that at its height in January, reflecting both the tactical successes of this year’s U.S. troop buildup and the lasting impact of waves of sectarian death squad killings, car bombings and neighborhood purges.

….American commanders credit the buildup, which reached full strength in June, with slowing sectarian bloodshed….But others say that the picture is more complicated than that because those seeking to cleanse their neighborhoods of rival religious sects have largely succeeded. The civilian death toll plummeted nationwide in the last two months; the toll was 2,076 in January but 884 in September and 758 in October, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.

At the same time, with an Iraqi government that remains riven by sectarian strife, the future remains unclear, American authorities acknowledge….”People just aren’t confident yet that that’s definitively, conclusively over. And I think it’s going to be awhile before they do,” Crocker told reporters. “If I were one of them, I’d certainly feel that way.”

Iraqi Health Ministry numbers are only modestly reliable, but Engram has his usual statistical dump here based on ICCC figures, and it shows pretty much the same thing. U.S. troop casualties are also down significantly. Elsewhere, Michael Yon quotes Sunni Sheik Omar Jabouri saying that “Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated.”

Sheik Omar said that al Qaeda had been “defeated mentally, and therefore is defeated physically,” referring to how clear it has become that the terrorist group’s tactics have backfired. Operatives who could once disappear back into the crowd after committing an increasingly atrocious attack no longer find safe haven among the Iraqis who live in the southern part of Baghdad.

Jabouri joined the American side earlier this year and has since been one of the most important Sunni sheiks working with us. I don’t know whether to take his statement as bombast or reality, but if it’s real it’s good news. Getting the civilian population to turn against terrorists and insurgents is by far the most important sign of progress in the effort to reduce violence.

The usual caveat applies to all this, of course. While the casualty reports are good news, what really matters is the same thing that’s always mattered: political reconciliation, infrastructure rebuilding, and economic progress. Maybe a few more months of reduced violence will pave the way for this, but so far we’ve seen nada, as Ned Parker’s piece makes clear. It’s also not clear just how much of the reduction in violence is due to American efforts and how much is due to the fact that sectarian cleansing has been pretty successful and there are very few mixed neighborhoods left in Baghdad. If the latter, there’s really not much reason for us to stick around, is there?

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