First off, I'm getting the graphical information from Engram here and here, and the numbers are based on the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count which, from what I've seen, has the best available data. In the last three months, we've been at full manpower and our operations have been highly kinetic. Despite more troops and more action on the front lines, military casualties were relatively low in July and August.
In terms of civilian casualties, July and August are higher than June, but lower than the first four months of the surge operation (which basically started in February of this year). In the graph below, you can also see the trends since the Golden Mosque bombing in February 2006, where al Qaeda successfully triggered an upswing in sectarian violence. They tried to start a civil war, and it's still working in parts of Baghdad.
But the above graph only tells part of the story. The coalition focused its efforts on Baghdad and the "belts", and that strategy has worked. Civilian casualties in Baghdad are way down.
Importantly, most of the decline in civilian casualties is due to the drop in execution-style killings, which primarily involves Shiite death squads targeting and slaying Sunni military-age males. With Muqtada al-Sadr announcing that he will stand his JAM militias down, I expect the extra-judicial killings will drop even further in September.
With nationwide civilian casualties nearly unchanged in August and with civilian casualties in Baghdad lower, the obvious conclusion is that civilian casualties were higher outside Baghdad. Sure enough:
So why is this number higher? After all, we didn't reduce forces in the outlying areas. If anything, we increased our numbers both in Baghdad and its suburbs and exurbs. The answer is al Qaeda and its like-minded affiliates are still in play, and they're murdering civilian wherever they can:
Most of the difference between July and August is attributable to a single terrorist attack, the unfortunate victims being the pre-Islamic Yezidis. I picked the title of the post as "clarifying" because al Qaeda & Co. further clarified its major role. It bears repeating: al Qaeda chose Iraq as the central front in its war against us, and they remain public enemy number one in Iraq. Not far behind are Iranian-supported Shiite paramilitias. With al-Sadr standing down, the coalition will have an easier time targeting the "rogue" Shiite squads. Fred Kagan summarizes the make-up of al Qaeda in Iraq:
AQI, as the U.S. military calls it, is around 90 percent Iraqi. Foreign fighters, however, predominate in the leadership and among the suicide bombers, of whom they comprise up to 90 percent, U.S. commanders say.
Most of the suicide bombers are Saudi, which tells us something about that society. Most of the senior leadership is foreign born, and so concerned were they that they made up a fictional Iraqi leader (al-Baghdadi) out of whole cloth to hide that fact.
On the national political front, not much has changed, and we're going to fall short on the eighteen benchmarks. Five Iraqi leaders came together last week and worked an agreement on power-sharing, de-Baathification and oil legislation, but the various political parties were less than receptive. The oil legislation appears to have the best chance of passing in the near term, but the rest is going to take more time, perhaps quite a bit more time. So far, political advances are occurring at the local levels, and David Kilcullen (Australian advisor to the U.S. Command) has an excellent piece on how the tribes are moving the stakes.
The Iraqi Army is progressing, and national politics and the Iraqi National Police are faltering. Another concern is the corruption, both in the Iraqi government and the American, which is flat out maddening. The political timeline in DC is this month, and there are going to be a lot of heated exchanges in the coming weeks. As for me, I'm still reserving final judgment on the current counterinsurgency strategy until year end.