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Playing Games With Iraq Numbers

Hoping desperately to maintain the status quo, the Bush administration insists that Iraq is less violent now than it was before the “surge” policy

Hoping desperately to maintain the status quo, the Bush administration insists that Iraq is less violent now than it was before the “surge” policy went into effect. Forget political progress, reconciliation, and the agreed-upon benchmarks, they say; reduced violence proves how effective the strategy is.

The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung wrote a must-read on the subject today, explaining that the administration is playing games with the numbers and cherry-picking statistics in a deceptive way.

Specifically, Gen. Petraeus is expected to say there’s been a 75% drop in sectarian attacks, a 56% drop in overall attacks, and a 17% drop in civilian casualties. All of this, it turns out, is suspect, and in some instances, contradictory.

The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” the official said. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.” (emphasis added)

As Ilan Goldenberg summarized, "So to recap. The violence numbers do not include: 1) Sunni on Sunni violence. 2) Shi'a on Shi'a violence 3) Car bombs 4) Getting shot in the front of the head."

Something to keep in mind when Petraeus reports on Iraqi "progress" next week.

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