Counting the dead in Iraq
Shortly after the last American troops crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait in December last year, President Barack Obama declared that US forces were leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq”.
Yet July was the deadliest month in the country for more than two years – a sign that the more easily measurable of those terms has proven to be false.
A total of 325 people were killed during those 31 days, according to figures released by the health, interior and defence ministries – among them 241 civilians. Another 697 people – 480 civilians, 122 police and 95 soldiers – were wounded.
The last time the monthly toll was so high was in August 2010, when figures showed 426 people killed and 838 wounded in attacks.
That the bloodiest month in Iraq two years has elicited little coverage is lamentable. When one considers that an estimated 800 are being killed in Syria every week, it is perhaps understandable.
But the war in Iraq is supposed to be over. So what is causing the spike?
I spoke with Colin Eide, an Iraq security analyst whose job it is to monitor the number of deaths in the country by painstakingly reading through local and national Iraqi newspapers and logging the number of people killed each day.
“Many analysts point to the porous border with Syria and the possibility that al-Qai’da-affiliated fighters could be moving back and forth with abandon. I tend not to think this has much at all to do with it, as the border’s been like Swiss cheese for years,” says Eide, an employee of Dunia Frontier Consultants.
“The most salient two factors are the security services’ immaturity, and the still fractured sociopolitical landscape.”
That fractured landscape to which Eide refers has become even more so as the year has progressed.
Immediately following the US withdrawal, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued terror charges against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi – one of Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunnis.
Then in the Spring, Sunni, Kurdish and even some Shia leaders united to threaten a vote of no-confidence in Malaki’s leadership after accusing him of refusing to abide by a power-sharing agreement.
Contributing to that political instability is the growing assertiveness of al-Qai’da as it seeks to take advantage of a security vacuum left by the departure of US troops.
Just 48 hours after the month’s worst day of violence on 23 July – when more than 100 people were killed in co-ordinated attacks across the country – al-Qai’da front group the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) claimed responsibility for those bombs and announced the launch of a new campaign.
But according to Eide, there is less obvious explanation for the sudden rise in deaths: the time of year.
“Summer in Iraq is just more violent than the rest of the year, with the exception of the Shia pilgrimage holidays of Ashura and Arabaeen, which for the past few years have been in the fall and winter.
“For example, according to our numbers, Iraq averaged 372.2 monthly fatalities in 2009, but in the summer months (June-August), it averaged 435.5 fatalities. Similarly, in 2010, Iraq averaged 338.5 monthly fatalities, but in the summer months, this spiked at 435.67 fatalities per month. In 2011, it was less pronounced, with a yearly average of 334 fatalities per month and a summer average of 352 fatalities per month.
“On a weekly basis for 2012, according to our figures, the country has seen 95.29 fatalities per week. This summer has been especially bad, with 126.75 fatalities per week since June.”
I asked Eide if he thought the security situation is likely to get worse.
“I don’t think it’s all that likely to deteriorate. We all really feared the return of 2006-2007 type conditions after Maliki began rounding up his Sunni rivals just 48 hours after the American withdrawal in December, but this really hasn’t come to pass.
“Right now, I’m sure al-Qai’da Central Command and various other nefarious forces are focused more on Syria than Iraq, but if there were to be a destabilization along the ‘trigger line’ separating Kurdish and Iraqi Central Government armed forces, that could change.”
Twitter: @_RichardHallTagged in: al-qaeda, Al-Qaida, iraq, security, US withdrawal from iraq
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