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The Greatest Story Never Told
Military progress in Iraq goes unnoticed by the press.
By Dean Barnett
Weekly Standard
10/23/2007 12:00:00 AM


MOST PEOPLE DON'T know about the website Icasualties.org. Icasualties.org is run by a bunch of lefties who have dedicated themselves to aggregating all the bad news out of Iraq over the past few years. Each day for the past thirty-four months, Icasualties.org has documented every Coalition military death as well as every violent civilian death in Iraq.

The people who run Icasualties.org obviously have little fondness for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among their many tendentious metrics is a tally of all the deaths since President Bush announced "Bring them on." Yet, in spite of a clear political agenda, Icaualties.org plays it straight--they just report the numbers. It's important to note that all the discussion regarding how David Petraeus classifies deaths has nothing to do with Icasualties.org's figures. If six bodies are found in Baghdad, they get added to Icasualties.org's butcher's bill. David Petraeus doesn't get a vote.

Since Icasualties.org is an ideological fellow traveler of most mainstream media outlets, you'd figure the site's reporting would occasionally get noticed. In the past, Icasualties.org's numbers and mainstream media reports have sometimes marched in lockstep. Who can forget all the "grim milestones" that the media purportedly mourned during the past four years?

IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, the story in Iraq has changed dramatically. The numbers on Icasualties.org have reflected that change. The metric that most animates the mainstream media and the American public is the count of American casualties. In the spring, with "the surge" just being rolled out, over 100 American soldiers a month died between April and June. Even though the surge was just beginning, it was about that time that Harry Reid asserted, "As many had foreseen, the escalation has failed to produce the intended results." As an analysis of our military prospects, Reid's comments were risible. Of course, Reid didn't intend to provide a serious military analysis. Rather, he tried to cynically capitalize on American deaths for political gain.

Since Reid's ill-timed comment, the situation for American soldiers in Iraq has taken a sharp turn for the better. The accompanying graph clearly shows the trend, but the situation can perhaps be best summed up by looking at the numbers in May compared to the numbers so far from October. In May, 120 American soldiers died in combat, and six more died from non-hostile causes. With October three-fourths complete, 20 American soldiers have died in combat while eight others have died non-hostilities related deaths.

It would be one thing if this improvement transpired because American commanders, spooked by the relatively high death tolls in the spring, decided to focus their mission on force protection. But that hasn't been the case. American troops have been engaging the enemy more actively over the past several months than at any time during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they've done so to spectacular effect.

The results of the surge, or "the escalation" as Harry Reid derisively called it, have been obvious in the Icasualties.org numbers. Before the surge, a bad month would claim the lives of roughly 3,000 Iraqi civilians and security force members. In February '07, the exact number was 3,014 Iraqi casualties. In March, the figure was 2,977. As the surge began to have its effects, that number dropped to 1674 in August. In September, with the surge taking full effect, the numbers showed a profound change--the Iraqi death toll plunged to 848.

Happily, September's figures don't appear to be an aberration. October has seen 502 Iraqi casualties so far. If the trend continues though the end of October, the final number should be around 650 for the entire month. That represents better than an 80 percent improvement from the war's nadir.

YOU'D THINK THIS would be a big story. After all, the mainstream media makes such a show of "supporting the troops" at every turn, you'd think it would rush to report the amazing story of our soldiers accomplishing what many observers declared "impossible" and "unwinnable" not so long ago.

It hasn't worked out that way. When General Ricardo Sanchez (ret.) addressed the situation in Iraq on October 11, he proclaimed that America was "living a nightmare with no end in sight." Naturally, the "nightmare" quote wound up in the first paragraph of the New York Times report on Sanchez's comments. What didn't find its way into the Times' report was any context of what's going on in Iraq. The "nightmare" assessment would have been a whole lot more fitting when Sanchez was helping run the show in Iraq in 2004 than it is today.

Some people are trying to explain to the American public what's happening in Iraq. Pete Hegseth is a 27 year-old Princeton grad who spent a year leading a combat platoon in Iraq and now heads Vets for Freedom, an organization that supports victory in Iraq. In yesterday's New York Post, Hegseth wrote an important op-ed piece that explains our counter-insurgency strategy in some depth.

"The term 'surge' is far too simplistic", Hegseth writes, "as it implies simply throwing more forces at the problem, when Petraeus' changes in tactics are even more important. The new counterinsurgency approach--namely, to take territory from al Qaeda, hold it, secure it and empower tribal sheiks to work together and rebuild their communities--finally provides an effective 'counteroffensive' to the chief tactics of al Qaeda militants and Shiite death squads."

And then there's the intrepid Michael Yon. Yon has spent more time on the frontlines than any other American reporters. He reported anecdotal evidence of a sea-change in Iraq that preceded the change in the hard numbers by several months.

The mainstream media's failure to report what's been happening in Iraq frustrates Yon perhaps more than anyone. He has risked his life to tell that story, and the American media has yawned, apparently preferring the anachronistic pronouncements of a former general who hasn't been in the theatre since the surge began. Earlier this week, Yon offered his dispatches free of charge to any paper willing to publish them. It will be interesting to see if he has any takers.

WHAT'S MOST FRUSTRATING about the press's reporting about Iraq is that you just know the next time something goes wrong, be it a car bomb slipping through or a mishap involving American soldiers, that story will get above-the-fold treatment in America's major dailies. The same old voices will begin shrieking "quagmire," and an American pop-singer will probably re-shape John Kerry's tired "Who will be the last to die for a mistake?" query into a lame rock song. (Wait, Bruce Springsteen has already done that.)

The cries of defeat and retreat will intensify.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the media reporting the bad news out of Iraq. Indeed, it's their duty. But there is something profoundly wrong with the media reporting the bad news while disingenuously ignoring the progress we've made, progress that's only been made because of the sacrifices of 160,000 American soldiers.

Dean Barnett is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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Hostile and non-hostile American deaths in Iraq. Source: Icasualties.org.

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