Pentagon officials are angry with the Government Accountability Office, whose recent report disputes that the surge has reduced sectarian violence in Iraq. And with good reason: over the weekend, General David Petraeus boasted to The Australian that sectarian violence was down a staggering 75 percent in Baghdad, a "hugely important" figure he surely wants to trumpet before Congress next week. An anonymous DOD official insisted to the Washington Post that the GAO is "factually incorrect" on this important metric, but provided no evidence for the claim. And that fits a pattern for the Pentagon's gripes with the GAO.
Repeatedly throughout the document (pdf), the GAO takes a note of caution on sectarian violence, which is the thirteenth benchmark. It says it's "not clear" whether the violence is in fact down, since "measuring such violence requires understanding the perpetrator's intent, which may not be known." Recall that in its July report, the White House plainly stated that "trends supplied over time by [the U.S. military command in Iraq] demonstrate a decrease in sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad, since the beginning of [the Baghdad security plan, known in Arabic as] Operation Fardh al-Qunun."
The GAO instead suggests substituting a measurement of total civilian casualties. And there the news isn't so good: the GAO reports that the "average number of daily attacks remained about the same over the last six months." A graph, based on data from the U.S. military command in Iraq, shows that from February to July -- the lifetime of the surge so far -- average daily attacks on civilians hover at a bit higher than 20 per day (click to enlarge):
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