I've not written recently about the reported drop-off in deaths in Iraq and that's been remiss of me. The right wing has been trumpeting claims of massive falls in violence - but these claims always cherry pick the numbers. In September, the Interior Ministry's figures were used to say violence had fallen 70% from the quarter before even when their figures were obvious BS and no more than a 30% drop at most was proveable. More recently, the US military touted a total of some 887 deaths in Iraq in a month even though an unofficial leak from the Interior Ministry's own figures - doubtless on the low side again - said just over 1400. Despite UN requests, the Iraqi authorities refuse to make their accounting methods and raw data open to public scrutiny.
Likewise, on the U.S. side, no-one seems to want to talk much about the whys and wherefores of a mysterious change in pattern. Although over 80% of U.S. casualties in Iraq have historically come from combat-related causes, suddenly over the past three months a third or more deaths are being called "non-combat related", most of the increase coming from vehicle and helicopter crashes.
The casualty rates are down, I agree - but we cannot be sure exactly how much and certainly not anywhere like enough. As we've pointed out at Newshoggers a few times before, even a rate of 880 deaths a month is still about 60% higher than the casualty rates which caused the break-down and factioning of Iraqi society in the first place.
However, playing fast and loose with lost lives enables the pro-war cheerleaders to ignore some other important points too. Today, the NY Times reports a claim from the military that "American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad". Maybe it's even true - although given their cavalier attitude to the data we shouldn't hold our breaths. Dead people can be as easily labelled "not-Al Qaeda" as they have been labelled "Al Qaeda" earlier in the Surge. Dead people don't disagree.
However, even if it were true it's hardly the "we won" it's being touted as today. AQI is hardly even the bulk of the problem - it never was. Nor driving AQI from Baghdad the cause of any drop in baghdad's violence. Ethnic cleansing by force and by people simply getting up and leaving (the latter isn't counted by the U.S. military as ethnic cleansing) as well as the politically-motivated ceasefire by Sadr's militia have far more of a role to play.
No, the problem is that the much-mythologised reconcilliation of Iraq's factions is a dead duck in both its top-down and bottom-up incarnations. The maps are already being redrawn. Even the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction thinks there will be a new outbreak of "ethnic cleansing" between Sunnis and Shi'ites after the U.S. security crackdown ends. Just like the original invasion plans, there seems to be a black hole in planning for the post-Surge reality.