The U. S. Government and the media report that American military and Iraqi civilian casualties have declined significantly for several months. Given the record of the Bush administration in manufacturing information, the American people have a right to be skeptical and suspicious about the accuracy of the count. While the media echoes the same numbers, too often their reporters reside in the comparative comfort and safety of the protected Green Zone and pass along to the public the figures released by the government.
In spite of this positive news, U.S. public opinion polls have not changed. Solid majorities still say that the war was a mistake, that it has been poorly executed, that the troops should come home.
Assuming that the government reports are accurate, what has caused this change? What new techniques did General David Petraeus install? What are the chances for continuation of the reported trend? How will it affect the occupation?
Some of the Sunni leadership was won over by putting them on the U.S. payroll, using crisp $20 bills for distribution to the lower ranks. They also received weapons for current use that may be saved for the anticipated civil war. This makes the ruling Shiites very nervous.
U.S. troops have arrested the men of military age they can find, incarcerating them by the thousands in the new prisons built for this purpose.
Between 2 and 4 million Iraqis have fled the country, reducing the pool of people who might have been slain or wounded.
The “cleansing” of the neighborhoods has been largely completed: Sunnis killed or driven from Shiite areas, Shiites killed or driven from Sunni areas, reducing the casualties as fewer were present to be attacked.
The U.S. military “surge” has placed more troops within the dangerous neighborhoods, decreasing intramural Iraqi fighting, but probably increasing casualties of those who seem to be potential dangers to U.S. troops.
Most important has been the decline in activity of the Mahdi Army, the largest private Shiite militia commanded by the powerful clergyman Moqtada Al-Sadr. For six months he has frozen Mahdi activities and virtually disbanded the organization. At the same time, Al-Sadr disappeared from Iraq, living quietly in Iran. The Iranian government is the prime sponsor of Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Is it possible that Iran is cooperating with the U.S. military by restraining Al-Sadr in order to delay or prevent the threatened U.S. attack on Iran? Restraining the Mahdi Army would be proof of Iranian good faith in helping the U.S. end the Iraqi insurgency, thereby averting the devastation of Iran by the enormous U.S. air and naval power at anchor in the Persian Gulf, waiting to be used?
The resistance of the Iraqis to U.S. forces is likely to continue at some level as long as the occupation continues. The decline in casualties may persist as long as these U.S., Sunni and Iranian policies continue. Surely, the Bush administration will describe the situation as proving the correctness and effectiveness of its policy. The continuation of the insurgency at a low level can be used to justify the continuing presence of U.S. troops in Iraq for the indefinite future.