Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Violence In Iraq Continues Downward Trend


Headlines said that March 2012’s death count in Iraq was the lowest since the 2003 invasion. That was only based upon the Iraqi government’s official figures, which have been highly questionable. They have consistently been the lowest of the three organizations that maintain numbers on Iraqi deaths. Two of those three did show declines in casualties from February to March, but they were not their low points. Last month, did mark a low point for attacks, and continued the downward spiral of violence in Iraq seen in the last few years.

Overall, March 2012 saw a reduction in violence in Iraq. Iraq’s Health, Defense, and Interior Ministries reported only 112 people killed for the month. That consisted of 78 civilians, 22 police, and 12 soldiers. That was down from 150 deaths in February, and 151 in January. In comparison, Iraq Body Count had 295 killed, a decline from 283 in February, and 464 in January. Last, the United Nation’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit reported 277 deaths in March, which was up from the 254 recorded in February, but not as high as the 500 in January. All together, the three groups’ numbers averaged out to 288 deaths for the month, and 7.3 deaths per day. That was only one death below February’s average of 229, and a slight decline from the average of 7.8 deaths per day for that month. The United Nations also recorded a large reduction in attacks in March, going from 330 in January to 299 in February, and 211 in March. That was an average of 10.6 per day in January, 10.3 in February, and 6.8 in March. The number of mass casualty attacks usually determines the number of deaths for any given month. Last month, there was only one day, which was ultra-violent, which was March 20. Fifteen bombs went off in ten different cities, along with various other small arms and mortar and rocket attacks leading to 50 deaths, and 255 wounded. Otherwise, there were only a small number of attacks, which was shown in the U.N.’s figures, and the low casualty numbers.
The scene from a bombing in Ramadi, Anbar province on Mar. 20, 2012, the deadliest day of the month (Reuters)
Deaths In Iraq 2011-2012
Month
Iraq Body Count
Iraqi Ministries
United Nations
Avg. Monthly Deaths
Avg. Daily Deaths
Jan. 2011
387
259
265
303
9.7
Feb.
250
167
267
228
8.1
Mar.
307
247
268
274
8.8
Apr.
285
211
279
258
8.6
May
378
177
319
291
9.3
Jun.
385
271
424
360
12.0
Jul.
305
259
381
315
10.1
Aug.
398
239
455
364
11.7
Sep.
394
185
405
328
10.9
Oct.
355
258
416
343
11.0
Nov.
272
187
264
241
8.0
Dec.
371
155
313
279
9.0
TOTALS
4,125
1,591
4,056
-
-
2011 Mo. Avg.
343
217
338
298
9.7
Jan. 2012
464
151
500
371
11.9
Feb.
283
150
254
229
7.8
Mar.
295
112
277
228
7.3

Attacks In Iraq 2011-2012
Month
Attacks
Avg. Daily Attacks
Jan. 2011
416
13.4
Feb.
358
12.7
Mar.
565
18.2
Apr.
483
16.1
May
561
18.0
Jun.
545
18.1
Jul.
404
13.0
Aug.
376
12.1
Sep.
283
9.1
Oct.
406
13.0
Nov.
268
8.0
Dec.
293
9.4
TOTALS
4,958
-
2011 Mo. Avg.
413.1
13.4
Jan. 2012
330
10.6
Feb.
299
10.3
Mar.
211
6.8

Last month did mark a low point for attacks in Iraq since 2003, but the nadir for casualties was different depending upon which organization was consulted. Iraq Body Count’s lowest figures were 209 deaths in November 2009, 217 in December 2010, and 250 in February 2011. For Iraq’s ministries, 2012 has shown a consisted drop in deaths with 112 in March, 150 in February, and 151 in January. Finally, for the United Nations, it recorded 207 killed in December 2010, 254 in February 2012, and 260 in October 2010. When those three groups are averaged out, the least number of casualties was November 2009 with 163, and 5.4 per day. March 2012 did see the fewest attacks according to the U.N. It passed the previous low point of 268 in November 2011. There are several possibilities for why the Iraqi government’s statistics have been so low. A member of the human rights commission in the Iraqi parliament said that there were thousands of people who had disappeared who were never included in the official numbers, and that many deaths in rural areas were never registered with the Health Ministry. The numbers could also be politicized, because since the March 2010 elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has controlled all of the security agencies. Keeping the figures down would help with rehabilitating the country’s international image after years of war. In the end, the government has to be considered when discussing Iraq’s violence, but the other organizations are probably closer to the real levels of casualties.

Lowest Deaths, Average Casualties, And Attacks In Iraq Since 2003
Iraq Body Count: November 2009 209, December 2010 217, February 2011 250
Iraq Ministries: March 2012 112, February 2012 150, March 2012 150
United Nations: December 2010 207, February 2012 254, October 2010 260
Average Monthly Casualties: November 2009 163, December 2010 191, February 2010 228
Average Daily Casualties: November 2009 5.4, December 2010 6.1, March 2012 7.3
Attacks: March 2012 239, November 2011 268, September 2011 283

Since 2009, violence in Iraq has taken a sizeable drop. That’s because many Sunnis decided to join the political process that year in the provincial elections, which continued in the 2010 parliamentary voting. With the departure of U.S. forces last year, Special Groups have largely ceased military operations as well. Some insurgent groups still exist, and at least one large string of bombings happens each month, but this is a far cry from the bloody days of the civil war, which lasted from 2005-2008. That’s why all the lowest figures for deaths and attacks have happened since the provincial balloting. At the same time, violence in the country has largely hit a plateau. Despite the large press that especially explosive months attract, overall deaths have stayed at an even pace since 2010. The next thing that needs to happen then is for the security forces to become more proficient, and for the remaining insurgent groups to slowly fade away as Iraq enters a new period in its history. Unfortunately, that will take a long time, but that trend can be seen when analyzing the numbers over the long-term in Iraq.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq says death toll for March lowest since 2003 invasion,” 4/2/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi government figures on victims “unrealistic” – MP,” 2/29/12

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit

Iraq Body Count

5 comments:

AndrewSshi said...

Do the number of attacks per day come from the Interior or Defense ministries? Because I wouldn't really trust either source as being terribly reliable.

Joel Wing said...

They're from the U.N., which I assume looks at press reports, their own sources, and the government.

Anonymous said...

Insitute of War is posting the Testimonies (March 2012) before the House Foreign Affairs Committe of James Dubik and K.Kagan. Both are talking about the "..,trend of violence is increasing." this year.

Joel Wing said...

I have a couple responses.

1st I have no ideological stance upon Iraq. I only go with what I read and analyze, and I'm perfectly willing to change my ideas. The Exxon deal with the Kurds for example, I thought would not go through, but then when more evidence presented itself I changed my opinion.

That being said there are three main ideologically stances upon Iraq right now. One is from the Left that wants Iraq to fail, because they were against the war to begin with, and thus any positive news could be construed as meaning that the invasion had some good affects, and they can't accept that. A second position is on the Right that opposes the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw combat troops, and therefore has been pushing the idea that Iraq is sinking into chaos since then. A third position is one that was shaped by the civil war years of 2005-2008. That one doesn't seem to have kept up with events in Iraq since then, and believes that a new civil war is just around the corner. Every year that violence doesn't increase is taken as evidence that the waring sides are just storing up their arms for the next day, and when there is a spurt of violence uses that as proof of their position. These ideas are pretty easy to discern if a you go through commentaries or reports from various people and groups.

That being said I can only base my opinion upon what I'm reading and seeing right now. In 2009 there was a large decrease in violence and deaths as the civil war ended. Then in 2010 there was another dip, and Iraq has been basically at the same level of violence and deaths since then. During the beginning and end of each year violence goes down and then during the middle of the year it goes up as the weather gets warmer, and this is a trend that has been around since 2003. The number of deaths in each month is largely determined by the number of mass casualty bombings. Al Qaeda in Iraq and the other groups it works with is able to carry off a large number of bombings about 8 out of 12 months. Last month for example was one of those where they didn't have the means and planning. With the warmer months coming and the trend in the middle of the year you can expect a large number of explosions to be coming this month or the next.

There are some that don't agree with this. There was a report by Michael Knights at the Institute for Near East Policies for example that said that violence was going up. There was also a similar report by a English based institute that the number of bombings have gone up. Also last year the number of attacks went down compared to 2010, but the number of deaths were about the same, so you could argue that the insurgents are becoming more proficient. I would partly agree with that, but also go back to the position that a large string of single bombings with large casualties can throw off the numbers a bit.

Still an entire category of attacks, those perpetrated by Shiite militias has largely disappeared now that the U.S. military withdrew. Al Qaeda does not have the support it use to, much of the insurgent gave up and switched sides during the end of the civil war, all point to violence going down in Iraq for me, and the insurgency going into a slow, but steady decline. That's what I'm seeing right now.

Joel Wing said...

Also forgot to say that the Institute for the Study of War holds the Right position, arguing that Iraq is heading towards chaos because the U.S. did not keep troops in the country.

Start Of The Tal Afar Battle

PM Abadi and his military staff announcing start of Tal Afar operation (Al Noor News) US 82 nd Airborne troop...