Despite the confident assurances of Gen. Petraeus and and Sen. McCain (kudos to Ware for calling everyone’s favourite faux-maverick out), the security situation in Iraq remains highly problematic (to say the least). Countering the misplaced (perhaps disingenuous) optimism of some US officials, BBC News reports today that civilian casualties rose by 13% in March, bringing the total number of deaths almost back up to pre-surge levels:
Data compiled by several ministries put civilian deaths in March at 1,861 – compared with 1,645 for February.
The apparent ‘success’ of the ‘surge’ (the BBC notes that despite the nationwide increase in civilian deaths, violence in Baghdad is down 25%, according to US military officials) may be largely illusory:
A BBC correspondent in Baghdad says insurgents seem to have shifted their focus outside the capital to avoid recently introduced security measures.
US military commanders had expected a switch in tactics, and the latest figures released by the interior, defence and health ministries appear to bear that out, says the BBC’s Jonathan Charles in Baghdad.
Health ministry estimates for civilian deaths in violence in January and December were both more than 1,900.
I’m sure both Petraeus and McCain feel completely secure strolling through the markets of Baghdad, what with their respective heavily-armed security contingents on high alert the entire time. (Too bad the average Iraqi doesn’t possess the same luxury.) But, like Ware, I’d love to see either one attempt an unaccompanied morning constitutional through the heart of Iraq’s capital.
Something tells me both would refuse without hesitation.
Related: Keith Olbermann has a typically pointed response to Sen. McCain’s overly rosy assessment of on-the-ground conditions in Iraq:
Update: Paul Rogers notes that the decrease of sectarian violence is likely partially due to both a temporary tactical maneuver on the part of the Mahdi Army and internal instability:
…[T]he Shi’a militias that make up the so-called Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr have been largely withdrawn from action, senior officials in the movement have gone to ground, and Muqtada al-Sadr himself has kept out of public view. This does not mean that this powerful faction has accepted the notional new reality of US power; it is much more likely to be a temporary tactic that actually allows the US forces to concentrate its energies more on curbing the Sunni militias.
At the same time, Pentagon sources report rifts in the movement which they claim are inhibiting its ability to function effectively (see Ann Scott Tyson & Robin Wright, “Mahdi Army rifts extend Iraq calm“, 29 March 2007).