Throughout this month, the administration has been touting a “trend” of decreasing violence in Iraq. The “violence is thankfully coming down,” said White House spokesperson Dana Perino on Oct. 18.
This morning, Gen. Raymond Odierno held a news briefing on the war in Iraq, declaring, “I believe we have achieved some momentum.” To bolster this claim, Odierno said he sees a downward trend in “civilian deaths”:
Iraqi civilian deaths have also declined in recent months. This has a great deal to do with the overall drop in violence but also has a lot to do with Iraqis coming together as a nation and not dividing along ethnic and sectarian lines. [...]
With the civilian populace feeling more secure and cooperating with both Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, this has been able to keep the enemy off balance and our casualty trends began to decline. It is a trend that we are absolutely committed to continuing.
But Iraqi government figures obtained today indicate that the administration may have spoken too soon:
The number of Iraqis killed in insurgent and sectarian attacks rose in October, according to government figures obtained on Thursday, in a blow to a nine-month-old US troop surge policy.
At least 887 Iraqis were killed last month, compared to 840 in September, according to the data compiled by the interior, defence and health ministries.
The rise in deaths in October illuminates how the administration is blindly pushing claims that it is gaining “momentum” in Iraq, ignoring the volatility that is still pervasive despite Bush’s “crackdown.”
The media have also accepted the administration’s talking points. Today, the LA Times alleged that the reduced violence since before the “surge” reflects “the tactical successes of this year’s U.S. troop buildup.”
But as Matt Yglesias observes, “the relevant goalposts aren’t the timing of declines in violence but the causal mechanism by which they occur. If violence is declining because local areas have already been ethnically cleansed, then the reduction…hardly shows that the US military deployment is accomplishing anything worthwhile.”