Sunday, March 02, 2008

It's official (though not surprising). Civilian deaths in Iraq are up. The officially reported number of civilians killed in February was 636, compared with 541 in January. (Official figures are, most likely, just the tip of the iceberg). Unlike US increased US military casualties, which could be attributed to our latest offensive, the upswing in Iraqis civilian deaths is hard to attribute to anything but an increase in internal strife. So, is this simply an inevitable but temporary setback, or the first indication that
the Anbar Awakening has failed?

My answer (the coward's way out) is that it is still too early to tell. The level of violence in Iraq has long been cyclical. During the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, violence levels regularly cycled up and down. During the "up" cycles, opponents of the war would wail that the sky was falling. During the "down" cycles, proponents would proclaim that victory was at hand. In fact, there was not much use in pointing out that up-cycles were more violent than down-cycles. A more fruitful approach was to compare the level and duration of peaks with other peaks, and the level and duration of lulls with other lulls. Looking at violence levels in Iraq this was, it is clear that the overall trend from 2003 to 2005 was increased violence.

The February, 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque seemed to be an end to the perpetual cycle. From the bombing until mid-2007, violence seemed to keep getting worse and worse with no end in sight. In fact, violence was heading into the highest, longest peak yet -- definitely significant, but still not irreversible. Then, with the Anbar Awakening and the Surge, violence declined month after month. Iraqis dared walk out on the streets; normal life began to return. It was the most sustained decline in violence, and brought killing down to levels seen years earlier. And, like the preceeding peak, the scope and duration of this lull have been significant, but not irreversible.

So, we will see soon enough whether February's increase in violence is a mere fluke, or the beginning of the failure of the Surge. In either case, this much is clear -- it ain't over yet.

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