Sunday, October 07, 2007

On Iraq: Stay Tuned

Iraqi deaths in September have fallen by nearly half as compared to August. The question, of course, is whether this is significant, or just a fluke.

I am inclined to find it at least somewhat significant. Violence in Iraq has long been cyclical, having its ups and downs, but generally trending upward. Optimists have long had a habit of proclaiming victory with every lull in violence, only to be proven wrong with the next upswing. So it is a mistake to read too much significance into a one-month decline in violence. On the other had, fall has historically been the most violent season, with spike ocurring particularly during the month of Ramadan. In 2006, for instance, September was the most violent month of the year, with deaths reported by news agencies (admittedly only a fraction of the total) peaking at 3,539, the bloodiest recorded month to date. (In 2005, killings hit their highest point in August). So if the usual fall spike in killings has failed to materialize this year, that is very good news indeed.

Nonetheless, it should go without saying that even without the usual fall spike, the general rate in violence is up. Even if the September decline in violence holds, it merely brings killing down to the rates that occurred in 2005 or early 2006. And an one-month decline, even if that month is September, is not enough to make a trend. We have had too many declarations of victory that failed to materialize to be calling an end to the civil war now.

My analysis in short: Stay tuned.

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