It's only June and initial statistics are showing the Iraqi civilian deaths for May are up almost 30% over last month at 1,944. Fighting is intense in Western Baghdad despite the increased troop and police numbers and murders attributed to sectarian violence have tripled. Iraqi police estimate that pre-surge estimates were around ten a day and now they average 30 a day. All at a time that the U.S. military insists that Iraqi civilian casualties due to sectarian violence are down. Who should we believe in this reverse Vietnam-era body count game?
Every indication seems to point to dramatically increased levels of violence and capability amongst violent groups inside and outside iraq. U.S. military deaths hit 124 in May and even contractor deaths have increased dramatically although there is no hard data for judging the exact number of contractor casualties (146 since January) or even the total number of contractors now closer to our original estimate of over 120,000. Everything is surging in Iraq.
There has been no data to indicate a decrease in car bombings, mortar attacks or violent incidents since the "Surge" began. The military has insisted that the true effect of the surge will not be known for many months and not even by the much touted September milestone.
In an time when "metrics" or hard data is in vogue used to gauge success or failure of actions there has actually been a restriction of data. The Iraqi government initially accused the UN of exaggerating the death toll and then refused to release figures. Then journalists were banned from covering violent attacks "for their own safety"
The idea that the insurgents are increasing activity to defuse the U.S. move is a credible scenario but in places like Diyala and Al Anbar province the surge is a non event. There is increased fighting with Iraqi on Iraqi violence being promoted by the creation of local militias. Even the Mahdi army which was magically tamed to coincide with the surge is gearing up for a fight now that Moqtada is back. Life in Baghdad has not been better, it is just the sound of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Electricity, fuel and other basics are in short supply, checkpoints make movement more difficult. Bridges are beginning to be taken out, creating problems for rapid reaction or movement of police.
Those who focus on the global scene might have noticed the rapid export of violent technology and tactics to Afghanistan. EFP's are being used in our other half decade old counterinsurgency that also begs for a solution. Looking else where Lebanon is now a war zone where "dead enders" are fighting pitched wars using crowded refugee camps as battle grounds. The Iraqi diaspora is straining the capacity of both Jordan and Syria spreading the virus of violence into once peaceful domains. Even Northern Iraq is not immune from the friction along its border.
Much of the surge required emptying out Kurdish units from the peaceful north to bolster Baghdad neighborhood watch centers. Naturally the worse case scenario would be an illegal incursion by Turkish forces against separatists elements. Both Kurdish leaders are pushing back and promising not to just roll over.
The surge was a simple and effective idea: put more troops at levels that will hinder the unrestrained violence so that the Iraqi Government could focus on stabilizing. Both those ideas may be wishful thinking. The internal and external increase in violence and scale of that violence is most likely yet another indicator of Iraq's inevitable spin into chaos.
September, as General Petraeus was clear to tell Slogger will not be a good or relevant time to show progress, " We are literally still just setting the footprint...but until we get all those forces in and have really worked with them for a while I think it’s difficult to see what’s going to happen,”
Agreed, but it is appropriate to wonder that even with the surge working in Baghdad there may be bigger problems ahead.