Friday, July 13, 2007

Question: Are You Following the Latest Trends?

On July 5th, the Washington Post printed a chart depicting the "Ups and Downs in Iraq Violence." In the first section of the chart, showcasing the number of unidentified bodies found in the country, the total in Baghdad from January to April fell substantially (321 to 182 respectively). And while May and June have shown increased numbers (a combined total of almost 900), in the provinces, the data has displayed a marked decrease from April.

The second section, depicting the aggregate number of civilians killed, and the aggregate number of people slain in bombings that killed over 20, signals hope as well. Again, while May and June highlighted a jump in the number of civilians killed in Iraq, the aggregate number of deaths shows a 34% decrease since January. Also, the number of civilians killed in mass bombings is at a six month low (after a significant spike from February through April). However, these numbers do not include the three provinces in the Kurdish North -- an area that is apparently peaceful enough not to demand statistics.

To make best use of this data, we need to look at the reasons why civilian casualties took a downward turn. A number of sources in the current political discourse attribute these numbers to the troop surge. They are quick to point out, however, that while the surge may be successful in the areas where the new strategy has been deployed, it is not a sustainable policy. The successes realized are too focused to represent a substantial change in the expected outcome.

In other words: It's not enough. Read former USAID worker
Kirk Johnson's take on what is needed for real security in Iraq.

We should harness these successes and continue to improve the security of Iraqi civilians, but we can't fool ourselves into thinking the current positive aberration in the progress our policy is making is anywhere near a reliable phenomenon. A lot of areas are improving, but there are still a number of locales that are not. As long as we keep our thinking sharp and continue to build upon the successes we are having, we can keep improving upon the Iraqi's security -- making sure the graphs never show increases again.


Anonymous said...

I think everyone's taking a vacation from thinking too hard these days. After all, we all need a break once in awhile!

Anonymous said...

Could the differences also partially reflect differences in how many casualties are actually identified and reported?

Geoff Schaefer said...

That's definitely a possibility Anonymous. In the article they point this out: "Calculating the numbers of people who die in Iraq is notoriously difficult because there is no reliable system for tracking of distributing official estimates."

"Various ministries keep different statistics on fatalities, and Iraqi government officials planned to meet this week to discuss how to collect and distribute a single set of numbers."

However, the numbers in the chart have been identified by the Health Ministry which eliminates potential discrepancies between different agencies and/or reporting mechanisms' figures.

This leaves only one agency's margin of error to contend with. That being said, the report does not give a margin of error figure, so we are left in the dark as to how accurate the Health Ministry is.

Point being anonymous - you could definitely be right, but we just don't know how to measure that. I would edge on the side of these figures being the most accurate of the bunch as they are from the most official source you can get right now.

I would also add that when you look at it from a statistical point of view, the percentage increases are substantial enough, I feel, to still match the trend you see on the table, even with discrepancies.

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