Saturday, March 25, 2006

Iraq: Good News, Bad News

If trends hold, the good news is that American deaths in Iraq are likely to be the lowest for a one month period in over two years. The reasons for the low casualties are not entirely obvious but with the growing sectarian strife, the American military appears to be staying closer to barracks to avoid further stimulating the strife while engaging in specific and limited operations, including the well-publicized troop airlift operation the week before.

In the meantime, the bad news is that the sectarian strife may be growing; see this post by Juan Cole of Informed Comment:
AP reports that guerrilla violence in Iraq killed 51 on Friday. In addition to bombings and drive-by shootings, police discovered 25 bodies, killed execution-style, in Kadhimiyah and Binok districts. (Kadhimiyah is largely Shiite). AP adds, "The rising death toll among Iraqis on Friday included five worshippers killed in a bombing outside a Sunni Muslim mosque after Friday prayers. At least 15 were wounded in the blast in Khalis, northeast of Baghdad."

The bomb blast outside a Sunni mosque is especially disturbing, since it fits a patter of recent escalation in Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence. This week, over a dozen Shiite pilgrims were killed in Sunni areas of the capital, on their way to and from the holy city of Karbala.
In case those 51 deaths sound low, here's some brutal math. If the Iraqis start averaging 51 deaths a day during their sectarian strife, that comes to 18,615 deaths a year. If that still sounds low, consider that Iraq is one-twelfth the size of the United States; if Americans were dying at the rate of 51 deaths a day per 25 million, we would have over 200,000 deaths by the end of the year. The grim news is that such a rate would be roughly equivalent to the American Civil War.

There have been repeated attempts by the Bush Administration to say that the problems in Iraq are exaggerated and one recent statement points out that the heavy fighting is only in three of the eighteen provinces. This is a shallow argument typical of the Bush Administration. In World War I, one could have made the ridiculous argument that 90% of France was at peace since the heavy fighting was mostly in the far north on the border with Belgium. Actually this is true of most wars; at any given time, the fighting is limited to certain areas. Even guerilla wars are not happening at all places all the time. At this time, Iraq is not engaged in an all-out civil war but it is a civil war. And we need to deal with that fact.

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