Looking for signs of progress in Iraq, the Bush administration has been quick to jump on reports of reduced violence in Iraq. The “violence is thankfully coming down,” said White House spokesperson Dana Perino. Violence is “down significantly from last year,” declared President Bush.
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee today, Joe Christoff of the Government Accountability Office stated that this recent reduction in violence should be taken with a grain of salt, as it coincides with increased sectarian cleansing and a massive refugee displacement:
I think that’s [ethnic cleansing] an important consideration in even assessing the overall security situation in Iraq. You know, we look at the attack data going down, but it’s not taking into consideration that there might be fewer attacks because you have ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, particularly in the Baghdad area. […]
It’s produced 2.2. million refugees that have left, it’s produced two million internally displaced persons within the countryas well.
Christoff’s conclusions echo that of ret. Gen. James Jones last month, who observed “progress” in a Shi’a-led ethnic cleansing campaign.
Also in attendance at the hearing was Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen. In his quarterly report to Congress released today, Bowen acknowledged the reduction in violence but stated that it has not been accompanied by tangible political reconciliation, a finding that was neglected by the traditional media in its reporting today. In Baghdad, for example, Provincial Reconstruction Team officials note:
Despite reduced violence, officials are pessimistic that lasting reconciliation is occurring. … In Diyala, there is a desire to work toward reconciliation, but it will take years to overcome ill-will between tribes.
Earlier this month, Gen. David Petraeus confidently declared, “There’s a local reconciliation” in Diyala province.