Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter Arrives In Iraq And Deaths Go Down As A Result


Despite press accounts in the western media that violence was increasing at the end of November 2011, the casualty counts for the month were actually down by around 20% compared to the previous month. The media has a bad habit of reporting on Iraq with little context, and takes any string of attacks as being an upsurge in militant operations, without comparing them to previous trends. November was a perfect example, with a few mass casualty bombings, but with deaths declining. Overall, insurgents appear to be following their traditional pattern of stepping up their operations in the hotter summer months, and then decreasing them during the winter.

Both major casualty reports for Iraq in November showed declines. Iraq Body Count had 296 deaths in November, compared to 355 in October, a 17% drop. Iraq’s Defense, Interior and Health Ministries found 187 deaths, down from 258 the month before, a 28% decline. Together, those averaged out to 241 deaths for the month, and 8.0 deaths per day. In October, there was an average of 306 deaths and 9.8 casualties a day. November’s numbers were below the yearly average so far, which stands at 281 deaths per month, and 9.2 per day. 2011 has also seen fewer deaths so far, than 2010, which saw an average of 323 casualties per month, and 10.6 killed per day, although the difference is not much.

Month
Iraq Body Count
Iraqi Ministries
Avg. Monthly Deaths
Avg. Daily Deaths
Jan.
387
259
323
10.4
Feb.
250
167
208
7.4
Mar.
307
247
277
8.9
Apr.
285
211
248
8.2
May
378
177
277
8.9
Jun.
386
271
328
10.9
Jul.
305
259
282
9.0
Aug.
398
239
318
10.2
Sep.
394
185
289
9.6
Oct.
355
258
306
9.8
Nov.
296
187
241
8.0
2011 Avg.
345
227
281
9.2
2010 Avg.
337
309
323
10.6

Since 2003, insurgents have increased their attacks every summer as the weather improves. 2011 was no different with the average number of daily deaths going from 8.2 in April to 8.9 in May, 10.9 in June, 9.0 in July, 10.2 in August, before starting a slow descent to 9.6 in September, 9.8 in October, and now 8.0 in November.

The Western media missed these trends, by only focusing upon the latest violence. McClatchy Newspapers for example ran with the headline “Violence on the rise in Baghdad as U.S. drawdown continues” on November 28. It noted that to that date 100 people had been killed in the capital, compared to 62 for all of October. It then went over the day’s violence, starting with a suicide car bomber killing eleven and wounding 26 in front of Taji prison in Salahaddin province, and then a sticky bomb killing two civilians and wounding 5 in Baghdad. That same day, the New York Times went with “New Wave ofBombings Raises Toll for Iraqis.” It went on to postulate that insurgents were picking up their operations as the United States was leaving. Both articles said that security could deteriorate as a result. The United Nations and the private company AKE noted this uptick in security incidents at the end of November. The U.N.’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit for example, had approximately 20 attacks per day or less for most of November, until spiking to almost 250 in the third week of the month before going back to the previous weeks’ figures. It was this sharp increase that caught the attention of the newspapers. They missed the fact that overall attacks have been going up and down since the summer, and that casualties do not always follow the same pattern. The Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit recorded 525 security incidents in November, resulting in 261 deaths, preceded by 428 attacks in October with 416 deaths, and 280 attacks in September, leading to 406 killed. Also, looking back at daily deaths for the past several weeks on Iraq Body Count shows that insurgents are only capable of carrying out two or three mass casualty operations a month. That was probably what happened in late-November, rather than representing a change in the security situation. The media’s emphasis upon the immediate situation, with little effort at analysis or looking at the long-term is rather typical of reporting on Iraq.

Now that Iraq has entered its winter season, attacks and deaths can be counted on to stay at lower levels for the next few months. The question now is what will happen with insurgent activity next year, when U.S. forces are out of the country. Is the press correct to warn that violence might increase, because militants will see the Iraqi government as being more vulnerable with the exit of the Americans? Will it go down, because insurgents have lost one of their main rationales for existence? Or will it remain relatively the same as it has since 2009 when many Sunnis decided to join the political process? The United States has not been actively involved with Iraq’s day-to-day security environment since it pulled back from the country’s cities in June 2009. Its withdrawal may still change the mindset of militants however, which needs to be closely followed in the coming months.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq death toll down in November,” 12/1/11

Drake, Jack, “Weekly Security Update for 1st December 2011,” Iraq Business News, 12/1/11

Healy, Jack, “New Wave of Bombings Raises Toll for Iraqis,” New York Times, 11/28/11

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Security in Iraq,” November 2011

Iraq Body Count

Issa, Sahar, “Violence on the rise in Baghdad as U.S. drawdown continues,” McClatchy Newspapers, 11/28/11

No comments: