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This is Predictable…

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The Times:

The death of a marine in western Iraq brought the American military death toll to 74 so far in July, on course to be the lowest monthly figure this year. The reduction follows a record 331 fatalities between April and June during intensive military operations in Baghdad and Diyala Province, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks military and civilian casualties based on Defense Department figures. That was the deadliest quarter of the war thus far.

The United States military said the marine was killed Monday while conducting combat operations in Anbar Province, west of the capital. Estimates of the death toll varied, but Iraq Coalition Casualty Count put the July total so far at 74, down from 101 in June and the lowest number since November 2006.

It would be nice if the article had noted that July has, over the course of the conflict, had the second lowest monthly casualty rate of the war (February had a slightly lower rate before this year). The rate this month was 2.77, a 63% increase over the July rate in previous years. This does represent an improvement over June (86% increase), and May (79% increase), but is rather worse than April (32% increase) or March (29%). Now, call it a positive impact of the Surge if you want, but I find it a touch troubling to celebrate the fact that we’ve just had the worst July in the history of the Occupation. July is the hottest month of the year in Iraq, and I suspect that the relationship isn’t random, although I haven’t run a regression to make sure.

Now, if casualty rates continue to decline in August and September, we might have something to talk about. Incidentally, what’s the deal with this? I can’t find a full transcript, but if Yglesias is relating accurately it’s odd to see O’Hanlon apparently backing off so quickly. I also have to wonder about Jonathan Chait; it somehow escaped his notice that Pollack and O’Hanlon argue entirely by anecdote, that the only statistics they can provide are demonstrably wrong, and that even the anecdotes they provide (shopkeepers happy about the American presence) run against the statistical data we have? And this is what passes for “a strong case”? Indeed, that is rather the point of Greg Sargeant’s argument regarding the Brookings Index. The anecdotes that O’Hanlon and Pollack provide run directly counter to the statistical evidence that O’Hanlon’s organization is providing. Far be it from me to claim that anecdotes have no value, but in this case the scales of evidence seem to fall heavily against the contentions that Pollack and O’Hanlon are making.

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