If we needed a reminder that America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at very different stages, we got it today when The New York Times reported that, for the first time since the invasion of Iraq, an entire month has passed without a single U.S. soldier dying. Only days earlier, we learned that August was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan. American military commanders attribute the milestone, which comes only two months after the U.S. experienced its deadliest month in Iraq since 2009, to the Iraqi government cracking down on Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias and on aggressive unilateral strikes by U.S. forces, who are scheduled to leave the country by the end of the year, barring a reworked security deal.
But as Reuters points out today in a separate article, the situation in Iraq is grimmer for the Iraqis themselves. While "violence is down sharply since the peak of sectarian slaughter" in 2007, the news agency explains, a "lethal Sunni insurgency and attacks by Shiiite militias continue to take a serious toll." Since President Obama officially ended combat operations in the country a year ago, Iraqi government statistics show, at least 2,400 Iraqi civilians, police and soldiers have been killed in violence. August alone witnessed a suicide bombing at Baghdad's biggest Sunni mosque that killed around 30 people and a series of coordinated suicide attacks across the country that killed over 70 more. U.S. statistics indicate that there are an average of 14 bombings and other attacks In Iraq every day. A look at the number of Iraqi security forces and civilians killed so far in 2011 doesn't paint a particularly optimistic picture. (The independent site iCasualities.org, which compiled these numbers, bases its figures on news reports and estimates that Iraqi deaths are higher than its tallies suggest.):
Still, there are signs that the situation could improve for Iraqis. "Broad trend-wise we've seen an overall reduction in the number of attacks, a reduction in the lethality of the attacks, how many casualties are they causing," Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, tells Reuters, adding that Iraq "remains a very dangerous place." There are signs that the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces are stronger, The Times adds, and a full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq might mean that "Shiite militias would lose some of their rationale for existence, and Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents could lose a useful foil" (or, as the paper points out, insurgents would increase attacks, at least in the near term, to "claim responsibility for pushing the Americans out of Iraq"). In a Washington Post op-ed this week, however, former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi caution that Iraq still faces a host of problems beyond fragile security and rising sectarianism: an absence of basic social services, a dysfunctional economy, and a government plagued by corruption and dismissive of "democratic principles and the rule of law."