Tuesday, September 11, 2007
"Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have . . . declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December. . . . The level of civilian deaths is clearly still too high and continues to be of serious concern. . . . The overall trajectory in Iraq -- a steady decline of incidents in the past three months -- is still quite significant."
-- Gen. David H. Petraeus
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The U.S. estimate of the decline in attacks since mid-June brings the level of violence in Iraq well below the level in the fall of 2006, when sectarian fighting and killings in Baghdad and elsewhere were skyrocketing. Nevertheless, attacks remain well above the levels of 2004, 2005 and early 2006.
According to the Petraeus data, which he said include U.S. and Iraqi figures and have been endorsed by U.S. intelligence agencies, a chief accomplishment of the troop buildup has been to halt the growth in violence that began in the spring of 2006, while also changing the nature of the fighting and, to some degree, its location.
The most important changes Petraeus highlighted were a drop in civilian deaths, including those related to sectarian violence, which he said fell 55 percent in Iraq and 80 percent in Baghdad. The figures indicate that U.S. troops have provided better protection, but officials say with that gain came an increase in attacks on U.S. troops.
But experts within and outside the government contend that some of the statistics employed by Petraeus are based on questionable methodology. One senior intelligence official in Washington has noted that Iraqis fatally shot through the back of the head are considered victims of sectarian attacks, while those shot in the front are deemed victims of ordinary crime.
Petraeus did not provide recent data for Diyala province, which saw violence intensify greatly this year, requiring troops to move there from Baghdad. Over the summer, a large-scale U.S. and Iraqi military operation in Diyala's capital, Baqubah, sharply reduced attacks, but U.S. forces have continued to pursue fighters in other parts of the province.
"The fight in Diyala is a good ways from being over because the enemy has dispersed," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the U.S. commander in northern Iraq, said in an interview earlier this month.
-- Ann Scott Tyson