Dean Barnett

If you look at the numbers in Iraq for the almost concluded month of September, you’ll find an encouraging story.  This month saw 61 American casualties.  That’s down from 84 a month ago and 126 in May at the surge’s peak.  The breakdown between hostile and non-hostile fatalities is even more encouraging.  There were only 41 American fatalities due to hostile action in September, down from 60 the month before and 123 in May. 

Of course, American military casualties aren’t a necessarily reliable indicator of American military progress.  Throughout 2006, American casualties were low (though generally not as low as they were this past month) while Iraq was going to hell in a hand basket.  For most of ’06, American troops were garrisoned and their commanders devoted most of their attention to force protection, Iraq was falling apart and thousands of Iraqi civilians were dying violent deaths each month.

On both the left and the right, we’ve had a shared philosophical understanding that the best hard number to indicate the state of play in Iraq is the amount of civilian casualties.  In September (so far), 813 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths.  That’s down from 1674 the month before and roughly 3,000 in what would have been a bad pre-surge month. 

How amazing is this progress?  The lefties at who truly do yeoman’s work in tallying up these numbers have led their page for the past few days with a link to a CFR report that questions whether David Petraeus has changed the definition of civilian casualties in Iraq and in so doing driven the number of Iraqi civilian casualties down.  The lefties at neglect to mention that their numbers don’t come from Petraeus; they gather their numbers from news reports around the world.  If five bodies are found in Baghdad, they go into’s tally; Petraeus doesn’t get a vote.

I guess you’d expect the left, when addressing Iraq, to resort to such transparently disingenuous subterfuges in order to discount the progress being made.  Actually, that would be Plan B.  Plan A would be to just ignore the good news out of Iraq.  Media outlets that have rushed to commemorate every “grim milestone” out of Iraq the past three years have grown strangely reticent in recent weeks.  If you expected to flip open your edition of the Sunday Times or the Sunday Globe and see a thoughtful piece on what was a very successful September, you were sadly mistaken.  You should also get yourself fitted for a straightjacket. Both papers have nothing to say about Iraq’s big picture this morning, although the Times does offer a helpful piece describing the woes of a long Iraq deployment.  God bless the Grey Lady – she’s always thinking of the troops.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, the Times and the Globe, for merely ignoring the progress in Iraq, win today’s prize for truthfulness displayed by a mainstream media outlet.  The Washington Post today presents a huge Rick Atkinson spread on our often-losing fight against IED’s .  Like everything else that Atkinson writes, the piece is well worth reading.  While there’s nothing earth shattering in the expos, it is a thoughtful discussion of how our inability to quickly adapt to changing battlefield conditions was our pre-surge Achilles’ heel. 

Nevertheless, the Post’s timing is ridiculous.  Presenting this enormous piece without acknowledging in any way, shape or form the progress that we’ve recently made is absurd.  Yes, America’s military strategy before the Senate (in all its sagacity) unanimously confirmed David Petraeus to lead a different kind of war left a lot to be desired.  But one can only wonder why the Post is choosing today to look back in anger, while ignoring the remarkable numbers out of Iraq.

But it is the L.A. Times that snares the award for “Unmitigated Chutzpah from a Once-reputable Newspaper.”  The L.A. Times runs a front page story today with the headline, “Petraeus Admits to Rise in Iraq Violence.”  Let’s put aside the tendentious headline which suggests, ala, that Petraeus would naturally incline to cook the books and thus any statement he makes about Baghdad that makes it sound like anything less than a little slice of heaven had to therefore be flogged out of him by our watchdog media. You’re still probably wondering, “What in God’s name is the L.A. Times talking about?  The September numbers declined.  A lot”

Here’s how the Times puts it:

BAGHDAD -- Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, acknowledged today that violence had increased since Sunni Arab militants declared an offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Certainly Al Qaeda has had its Ramadan surge," Petraeus said in his first comments to reporters since he returned from Washington to give lawmakers a status report on the war in Iraq. But he said the level of attacks was "substantially lower" than during the same period last year…At least 11 Iraqis were killed in bomb blasts, mortar and gunfire today.

Notice the scare quotes around “substantially lower”.  Also notice that the Times makes no effort to quantify what substantially lower means.  In case you’re more curious than the typical L.A. Times reporter or editor, here’s what “substantially lower than during the same period last year” means:  In September of ’06, there were 3,539 Iraqi civilian and security forces casualties. In September of ’07, there were 813. 

Additionally, and this may be just my fertile imagination running away with me, the tendentious headline combined with the scare quotes seem to imply that General Petraeus’ isn’t altogether trustworthy.  All the more wonder then that the Times didn’t do the simple legwork to verify or debunk his numbers. Perhaps the editors were too busy hatching plans to disingenuously minimize the progress in Iraq to have a spare minute to punch up on their computers.

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Dean Barnett

Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at

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