Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Proper Point of View

Ned Parker writes in the Los Angeles Times that civilian deaths in Iraq have plummeted:

Iraq's civilian body count in October was less than half that at its height in January, reflecting both the tactical successes of this year's U.S. troop buildup and the lasting impact of waves of sectarian death squad killings, car bombings and neighborhood purges.

October also marked the lowest monthly death toll for American troops, 36 fatalities, since March 2006, when 31 were killed, according to

American commanders credit the buildup, which reached full strength in June, with slowing sectarian bloodshed.

They say the decision to send 28,500 more troops to Iraq has made a difference by allowing them to send soldiers to live on the fault lines between Sunni Arab and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, and to conduct sweeping offensives in provinces east and south of the capital against strongholds of Shiite Muslim militias and Sunni militants linked to foreign insurgents.

But others say that the picture is more complicated than that because those seeking to cleanse their neighborhoods of rival religious sects have largely succeeded. The civilian death toll plummeted nationwide in the last two months; the toll was 2,076 in January but 884 in September and 758 in October, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.

"Everyone in our neighborhood is Sunni, even the birds flying above us are Sunni," said Mohammed Azzawi, a resident of the once mixed district of Ghazaliya.

A year ago, his street was a battleground between Shiite and Sunni militants. Now it is segregated between its Shiite northern tip and its Sunni south.

Moreover, American forces have felt it necessary to make tacit deals with groups that have been involved in the sectarian cleansing, and many Baghdad residents who have not been killed have fled. The number of people displaced internally in Iraq has risen to 2.25 million, and an additional 2 million have left the country.

At Angry Bear, cactus says I told you so (with justification):
I had a post recently in which I wondered aloud... are the reduced casualties we're seeing in Iraq a sign the Surge is working, or a sign that ethnic/sectarian cleansing is working? I noted a simple test... if reduced violence is due to US policy, moving those who fled back to their homes won't cause a renewed spike in violence...

Here's a story in today's LA Times:
Over four million people fled, out of a population of less than 30 million. And then there are those who died.

And this is what success looks like:
American military leaders say that Iraq and its capital, where much of the sectarian violence has taken place, are significantly safer than during the height of Shiite-Sunni warfare last year -- although even at its reduced level, the violence takes a toll of nearly 200 deaths a week.

And this:
Baghdad's Rashid district, for example, was once an area with a majority Sunni population. After years of violence, its population is about 70% Shiite.

Securing the area has meant coming to an understanding with the same militia responsible for expelling the Sunnis, American officials acknowledge.
And in the largely Sunni enclave of Ghazaliya, residents say the protection they receive from American troops has made a world of difference. Where Shiites were forcibly and bloodily evicted, Sunni men now stay outside till 10 or 11 p.m., sitting in lawn chairs. The light spills outside from a barber shop open late. One night, a string of cars from a wedding party drives down the street, passengers honking their horns.

"I expect to live in Ghazaliya the rest of my life. This is our home," Azzawi said. "Now that it is pure Sunni, it is better for us.

You know, if we had dropped a few nukes on Baghdad and it was nothing but paved glass, there would be a lot of people touting the reduced violence as a success story.

Why the gloom and doom? Don Surber asks. There is a bright side to sectarian cleansing:
Deals are being cut. Sunnis are separating from Shi-ites. Is that necessarily bad? Considering Saddam Hussein was a Soviet client who modeled himself after Josef Stalin, could he not have used his Sunni compatriots to spy on or at least help repress the Shia majority? Many were the Russians sent to the Baltic states and elsewhere after World War II.

Human beings can justify anything. As James Taylor said in a very different context, All that's really needed is the proper point of view [bolds mine]:
As the casualty rates in Iraq for American and Iraqi soldiers continue to decline, the focus shifts to civilian casualties. In order to stabilize the country, the security forces have to drive attacks and deaths down to the point where native security forces can take control and allow the US to concentrate on rebuilding efforts. In October, the Coalition showed continued progress towards that goal, with civilian casualties dropping to a level not seen since 2005[.] ...
Part of the progress has come from shifts in population that have created more homogeneous neighborhoods. Instead of mixing the various populations, shared areas such as Baghdad have instead transformed into self-segregated territories. It follows from a year-long sectarian battle that radicalized the various groups until the fighting finally began its decline after the surge.

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