Progress In Iraq (Not!) [hilzoy]

From the NYT:

"An independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, administration and military officials said Thursday.

The commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones, the former top United States commander in Europe, concludes that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said.

The report, which will be presented to Congress next week, is among a number of new Iraq assessments including a national intelligence estimate and a Government Accountability Office report that await lawmakers when they return from summer recess. But the Jones commission’s assessment is likely to receive particular attention as the work of a highly regarded team that was alone in focusing directly on the worthiness of Iraq’s army and police force."

Start over. On the entire national police force. This is hardly encouraging news, though it's not a surprise either, especially not after "the working draft of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad" obtained by the Nation, which says the following about the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), which is in charge of the police force:

MOI is a 'legal enterprise' which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc."

Meanwhile, the National Security Network has compiled a list of problems with assessing the administration's claims that violence in Iraq has been reduced:

"For the past month, the Bush Administration and General Petraeus have asserted that a drop in violence is evidence that the "surge" is working. Unfortunately, the evidence is difficult to validate. Underreporting civilian deaths is, sadly, nothing new. A number of U.S. agencies differ with the Administration's assessment that sectarian violence is down and in fact there are inconsistencies within the Pentagon's own reporting. The Iraq Study Group concluded that in the past car-bombs that don't kill Americans, murders, and inter-ethnic violence were not tracked in order to demonstrate reduced violence. Recent analysis indicates that some of these trends continue. More importantly, the military has refused to show the public any evidence to support the claim that violence is down."

The full list of issues with the numbers is worth reading in its entirety. One item is particularly striking:

"There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report. The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings. In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 25% increase. These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began."

Spencer Ackerman reports this as well, with useful graphs. As he points out, this might be an artifact of a change in methodology. In any case, it would be nice if the Pentagon explained what accounts for a 25% increase in its own figures for the same month.

It would also be nice if the administration would share with us its basis for the claim that violence in Iraq is coming down. But from where I sit, it doesn't seem to be true. (See, for instance, Kevin Drum.)

And it certainly won't go down if the Iraqis have to disband their police force.

[UPDATE: More on the Pentagon's numbers below the fold.]

UPDATE: IraqSlogger has a useful story on changes in the Pentagon's figures. A graph from the story, courtesy of Ilan Goldberg of the National Security Network:


And an explanation:

"Goldberg explains the abnormalities as best he can:

Abnormality A: Between August and November 2006, DOD started reclassifying “casualties” as “deaths by execution” and suddenly you see a dramatic drop in killings. For example, in March 2006 right after the Samarra Mosque bombings you go from 1,750 “casualties” to 750 “deaths by execution.” Between November 2006 and March 2007 “Deaths by Execution” becomes “Sectarian Murders” but the numbers remain the same.

Abnormality B: Between the March 2007 report and the June 2007 report there was a dramatic change in the number of killings that were reported for the second half of 2006. In both cases the numbers were described as “sectarian murders.” The impact here is that it makes the “pre surge” situation look extraordinarily dire and therefore signals progress thereafter.

Abnormality C: Somehow the reclassification that occurred between the March and June 2007 reports caused the violence numbers in April and May of 2006 to drop dramatically. This was in the months following the Sammara bombings in February 2006 when sectarian violence was escalating."