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.