Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Violence in Iraq is on the Rise

[Iraq: War as a SIM Game]

You know, no one is happy about this. I'm not, Blue Girl isn't. We're not happy that the violence in Iraq is increasing, day by day. This isn't why we get up in the morning and blog like maniacs.

I wish I had been wrong from day one. I wish I was wrong about Iraq, and whether we're winning the war. I wish I was the one who was shamed and humiliated for doubting that we could pull it off. That would mean more people would be alive. That would mean, basically, that despite my belief that this was the wrong war for the wrong reasons, I was wrong about our capabilities.

So I don't "enjoy" being able to post things like this:

(CBS/AP) Violence killed at least 42 people Tuesday, including 16 bus passengers caught in a roadside bombing in southern Iraq, after the deadliest day for U.S. troops in precisely six months.

The U.S. military announced that three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad on Monday, bringing to eight the number of troops who died that day. The last time so many U.S. military personnel were killed in Iraq was Sept. 10, when 10 died.

Bloodshed has increased recently, despite what the military said has been a 60 percent drop in attacks across Iraq since June. Last Thursday, two massive bombs killed 68 people in Baghdad's Karradah neighborhood. On March 3, two car bombings killed 24 people in the capital.

According to an Associated Press count, at the height of unrest from November 2006 to August 2007, on average approximately 65 Iraqis died each day as a result of violence. As conditions improved, the daily death toll steadily declined. It reached its lowest point in more than two years on January 2008, when on average 20 Iraqis died each day.

Wait a minute--didn't Michael O'Hanlon tell us this just yesterday?

But they sometimes fail to fold in the reality of how far Iraq has come in the past 12 months under the new surge-based strategy of Gen. David Petraeus. Most Democrats seem to belittle or even deny the progress, despite a 75% reduction in violence and the beginnings of Iraqi political compromise.

I'm not belittling it, or denying it. I just keep finding credible sources that tell me your numbers are way off the mark.

Those numbers have since jumped. In February, approximately 26 Iraqis died each day as a result of violence, and so far in March, that number is up to 39 daily. These figures reflect the months in which people were found, and not necessarily - in the case of mass graves - the months in which they were killed.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said Sunday that recent violence should not be taken as evidence of "an increase or a trend of an increase."

"I think we need to continue to look at historically what has happened over the last year to really put in perspective a one-week or two-weeks' worth of activity inside Baghdad," Smith said.

But Smith, in what has become a military mantra of caution, also noted that "on any given day, al Qaeda and other extremist groups are still very much disposed toward handing out violence indiscriminately to achieve whatever means and ends they hope to achieve with those attacks."

While al Qaeda in Iraq is Sunni, Shiite extremists with alleged ties to Iran are also believed to have carried out attacks.

In an interview with CNN Tuesday, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he was in favor of substantive discussions with Iran about what the U.S. claims is Tehran's continued funding and training of extremists in Iraq.

Petraeus said he did not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to Iraq last week because he thought it would have been a "relatively meaningless encounter."

Now, the curious aspect of my Pale Rider personality asks, why would Petraeus be talking about Ahmadinejad as an irrelevant adversary on Tuesday? Why would an American military officer publicly belittle someone like that? Did he have the go-ahead to speak like that from the State Department or the DoD? Did he have someone sign off on his expansion of his commentary beyond his lane? Because Iran is not in his lane. It was in Admiral Fallon's lane, until Tuesday. Think the resignation/firing/elimination of his immediate superior Admiral Fallon and the undiplomatic escalation of the rhetoric from Petraeus was a coincidence?

And why do they keep talking about "al Qaeda in Iraq?" Have they suddenly flooded Iraq with tens of thousands of fighters? Or were they never really much of a factor at all?

The essential questions are: How large is the presence of AQI, in terms of manpower and attacks instigated, and what role does the group play in catalyzing further violence? For the first question, the military has produced an estimate. In a background briefing this July in Baghdad, military officials said that during the first half of this year AQI accounted for 15 percent of attacks in Iraq. That figure was also cited in the military intelligence report during final preparations for a National Intelligence Estimate in July.

This is the number on which many military experts inside the Beltway rely. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution who attended the Baghdad background briefing, explained that he thought the estimate derived from a comprehensive analysis by teams of local intelligence agents who examine the type and location of daily attacks, and their intended targets, and crosscheck that with reports from Iraqi informants and other data, such as intercepted phone calls. "It's a fairly detailed kind of assessment," O'Hanlon said. "Obviously you can't always know who is behind an attack, but there is a fairly systematic way of looking at the attacks where they can begin to make a pretty informed guess."

Yet those who have worked on estimates inside the system take a more circumspect view. Alex Rossmiller, who worked in Iraq as an intelligence officer for the Department of Defense, says that real uncertainties exist in assigning responsibility for attacks. "It was kind of a running joke in our office," he recalls. "We would sarcastically refer to everybody as al-Qaeda."

To describe AQI's presence, intelligence experts cite a spectrum of estimates, ranging from 8 percent to 15 percent. The fact that such "a big window" exists, says Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, indicates that "[those experts] really don't have a very good perception of what is going on."

It's notable that military intelligence reports have opted to cite a figure at the very top of that range. But even the low estimate of 8 percent may be an overstatement, if you consider some of the government's own statistics.

I don't know what they're paying O'Hanlon, and I don't really care. But if he's making more than five bucks an hour to come up with this stuff, he's grossly overpaid and should be replaced by an out of work boy band guru or maybe even someone who can't keep track of donations for the NRCC. I mean, at what point does someone lose all credibility? At what point does the function of "gatekeeper" switch on and we start to see a helluva lot LESS of this guy in print?

Me, personally, I'm sick of seeing neocon apologists getting published day after day after day. I can't keep up. It's an avalanche of bullshit that never ends.

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