Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IRAQ: Still A Dangerous Place

Residents of Baghdad have begun paying for “martyr billboards” with pictures of family members that have been killed

The military turnaround in Iraq has been stunning. Deaths are down 80%. Sectarian attacks that looked to be tearing the country apart in 2006, have been reduced 90%. IEDs and mass casualty bombings have seen similar declines. As military and Iraq expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has pointed out however, there is still residual violence that will continue on for the foreseeable future because there is simply no way to stop all attacks. In August 2008 for example, Baghdad claimed were there 92 roadside bombs, 54 mortar attacks, seven car bombs, and twelve Katyusha rocket attacks. Some U.S. commanders have dubbed this the “irreducible minimum.” While deaths are down, Iraq remains a very dangerous place.

Depending upon the source, the number of Iraqis killed varies. All of them however, follow the same general trends. In the beginning of 2008 there was a spike in casualties as the government launched a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, first in Basra in March 2008, followed by Sadr City in the capitol. From April on, deaths then declined to below the January level in July. That being said, hundreds of Iraqis are still dying each month despite the security gains. According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, which bases its numbers off of estimates of Pentagon reports, there have been an average of 655.7 deaths per month from January to July 2008. The Iraqi Body Count site has an average of 876.4 deaths per month for the same period, while icasualties.org counts 618.1 a month. For August, the Iraqi government claimed 462 killed and wounded, while icasualties recorded 311 deaths. Compared to the Iraq Index, those are the lowest number of casualties since the U.S. invasion, but they are still a heavy toll for Iraqis.

National Public Radio reported that citizens of Baghdad are not forgetting. They reported on a new trend in the capitol, “martyr billboards.” Iraqis have begun paying for billboards that show pictures of their family members who have been killed. Most of them are images of casualties from recent attacks, but one man interviewed posted a sign with five of his family members that were victims of a large-scale attack in July 2006. He said he put it up to remind the government of the toll common Iraqis have paid during the war, and to push them to more action. What the politicians need to work on is real political accommodation between the rival groups inside and out of the government, which could be the long-term solution to what ails the country. There’s no telling when and if that will happen. Until then, there will continue to be violence and deaths there, just at a much lower level than before.

2008 Iraqi Deaths Statistics

Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index
  • January 600
  • February 700
  • March 750
  • April 950
  • May 550
  • June 490
  • July 550

Iraqi Body Count
  • January 741
  • February 976
  • March 1534
  • April 1257
  • May 756
  • June 620
  • July 251 (provisional)

  • January 554
  • February 674
  • March 980
  • April 774
  • May 506
  • June 450
  • July 419


Biddle, Stephen, O’Hanlon, Michael, and Pollack, Kenneth, “How to Leave a Stable Iraq Building on Progress,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008

Cordesman, Anthony, “Victory And Violence In Iraq: Reducing the ‘Irreducible Minimum,’” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2/25/08

Gwertzman, Bernard, “U.S. ‘Winning’ Unpopular War in Iraq, but ‘Losing’ Popular War in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, 9/8/08

Icasualties.org, “Iraqi Deaths”

Iraq Body Count.org, “Database – Monthly Table”

Kenyon, Peter, “Billboards Serve As Reminders Of Death In Baghdad,” Morning Edition, NPR, 9/9/08

O’Hanlon, Michael, Campbell, Jason, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institution, 8/28/08

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Defense Analyst Sees ‘Enormous Progress’ In Iraq Security Situation,” 7/1/08

Vanden Brook, Tom, “Roadside bombs decline in Iraq,” USA Today, 6/22/08

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