Dubious Data

Days after U.S. commanders announced that training Iraqi security forces will be a primary strategic goal of U.S. troops in Iraq, the Bush administration abruptly altered its weekly reports on the status of Iraq’s police and military forces.

This week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the Weekly Iraq Status Reports “the best data anyone has in the world” on the pace of Iraqi security force training. Yet recent reports include several extreme changes that require White House explanation. For example, the status report issued on 1/19/05 documented 7,598 personnel in Iraq’s Army; just two weeks later, the number of Army personnel had reportedly ballooned to 56,284. The purported number of Iraqi Navy and Air Force personnel also changed dramatically. On 1/19/05, the status report listed 145 Iraqi Air Force personnel and 495 Iraqi Navy personnel; the numbers are seemingly swapped in the latest report, with 139 Navy personnel and 526 Air Force personnel listed.

Several important statistics have also been consolidated or eliminated entirely from the latest reports. For example, over at least the last five months, the reports have included both the number of “Trained/On Hand” soldiers as well as the target “Required” number; the “Required” category has been completely removed as of 1/26/05. Also, the categorization of security forces has been consolidated from twelve categories to only five, making it impossible to distinguish, for instance, between the numbers of personnel in the National Guard, the Intervention Force, or the Army. Since these different force components require different amounts of training, the conflation of categories makes it even more difficult to track the pace of Iraqi security force training.