Attrition: Casualty Trends in Iraq


February 12, 2006: Over the last year, the fighting in Iraq has caused about 14 casualties (dead, wounded) a day. About half of these are Iraqi civilians. Most of the rest are Iraqi soldiers and police. The amount of violence varies quite a bit. On about 14 percent of the days, the average number of casualties has been about 103. Over the last six months, however, the trend has been downward. Massive attacks against civilians have been far fewer, mainly because al Qaeda has taken a beating. In addition to more attacks by Iraqi security forces, al Qaeda has been fighting with some of its former allies in the Sunni Arab community. Al Qaedas strategy of making massive suicide bomb attacks against Shia Arab civilians disgusted even the Sunni Arabs. Al Qaeda responded to this criticism by trying to terrorize and intimidate Sunni Arab leaders. This backfired, and now al Qaeda is preoccupied with fighting their erstwhile allies.

However, an increasing number of casualties are caused by Sunni Arab and Shia Arab gangs fighting it out. Some of these are the result of criminal gangs battling over territory. But much of it is revenge. Ever since Saddam's government fell three years ago, the Shia Arabs and Kurds have wanted revenge. They can't go after it openly, for then the coalition troops would stop them. Even private death squads are dangerous, for the Americans are always on the look out for groups of armed civilians moving around. So the Kurds and Shia Arabs have joined the police, or used contacts inside the government to get them police ID (uniforms you can get at just about any market place). Many of the killing target specific Sunni Arabs who used to do Saddam's dirty work. But a lot of the dead bodies are just Sunni Arabs who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sunni Arab attacks are becoming more difficult, as Iraqi police become more active and efficient. What started out as a Sunni Arab attempt to terrorize Shia Arabs into knuckling under to Shia Arab demands, has shifted to a revenge campaign by Kurds and Shia Arabs against Sunni Arabs.


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