Plainly, the media cannot be relied on to give a fair perspective on levels of violence in Iraq. There are multiple biases at work, of which the most significant are not ideological. Quite simply, bad news is a better story than good news. If it bleeds, it leads. If it stops bleeding then find me a story involving someone who is bleeding. The result is that Iraq, as in other areas of life, hits western headlines when the violence is getting worse and is not reported when things are getting better.
It is therefore necessary, occasionally, to add some perspective.
Reviewing things we can see that the overall picture remains patchy.
The most widely reported index in the US – US troop fatalities, took a turn for the worse at the end of 2006. October and December of last year were the worst months of the year, and November was also poor. The figures are comparable with the same quarter of 2005, though far below the last quarter of 2004. The peak months of the entire operation remain April and October 2004. Total deaths for 2006 were lower than either of the previous full calendar years of the operation.
Total Iraqi civilian deaths from violence but excluding murder show a rather different picture. Over the whole period of Operation Iraqi Freedom there have been three sudden peaks. These were April 2004, November 2005 and August 2006. Unlike US troop fatalities, where the general trend has been downwards, each of these peaks has been larger than the last. It is nonetheless worth noting that, as with previous peaks, the fall afterwards was as dramatic as the rise. The total of civilian deaths for the last quarter of 2006 was lower than for the single month of August.
Oddly, when ordinary murders are added in, August shows a dip when compared with the surrounding months, which implies there may be some methodological blip. For example, the total civilian deaths by violence for August was 3009 of which 2489 were included in the table of figures labelled “does not include murders”. July, on the other hand had ony 844 deaths “not including murders” but a whopping 3589 when murders are added in. September, similarly, 1150 “not including murders” but 3345 with murders added in. If the figures are correct, the huge jump in terrorist and sectarian related violence in August coincided with a dramatic fall in ordinary civilian murders.
Iraqi military and police deaths show similar volatility from month to month. August and October were the worst months of 2006, however, as with American fatalities, the figures for 2006 compare favourably with 2005. Within 2006 the third quarter was the worst and the second quarter the best. By the end of the year the monthly fatalities were less than half – and even in August only 2/3 – of the peak month in the summer of 2005. Figures for 2003 and 2004 are not really comparable because, as we will see below, the number of Iraqis serving the security forces was lower.
The number of Iraqi security forces on duty stood at 7-9,000 in May 2003. By the end of that year it was 99,600. By December 2004 118,009; December 2005, 223,700; December 2006, 323,000.
Economic indicators continue to show astonishing growth. Real physical good such as cars, telephones, etc. are far ahead of targets. Major infrastructure such as water, oil and electricity are more problematic – being terrorist targets – but do show positive signs. Oil exports, for example, show year on year growth. Oil revenue, in billions of dollars for December 2003 was 1.26; 2004, 1.44; 2005, 1.60; and 2006, 2.46. In electricity production, average megawatt hours MwH, show similar growth: December 2003, 72,000; 2004, 81,114; 2005, 91,400; 2006, 85,968.