U.S. Military Fatalities in Iraq: A Perspective on Year 5
By Glenn Kutler
Glenn Kutler (email@example.com) has contributed a weekly analysis of Iraq war fatalities
to iCasualties.org since 2003 and is principal of Fulcrum Capital, LLC, based in Philadelphia.
Prior to establishing Fulcrum in 1997, he worked in information technology operations,
corporate development, merchant banking, finance and venture capital.
Abstract: President Bush’s surge strategy intends to use the might of the U.S. military to establish
secure conditions in Iraq under which the promise of political progress will be realized. The U.S.
military used this approach in the past when the U.S. Fallujah Offensive of late 2004 established
security for the Iraqi Election Cycle in 2005. But the promise of political progress for insurgents
was not fulfilled and they resorted to extreme levels of violence in response, killing 1,079 U.S.
troops from September 2006 through September 2007, more than in any other comparable 12
month period. During the second half of Year 5, from September 2007 through the fifth
anniversary of the war on March 19, 2008, U.S. forces in cooperation with Sunni insurgents and
Shiite militias helped improve security conditions once again. But unless the surge’s promise of
political progress is fulfilled, the patience of the insurgents and militias will dissipate and violence
will increase once again in Year 6.
After five years in Iraq, the U.S. military has suffered over 33,000 casualties,
more than 29,000 wounded and 4,000 dead,1 and it remains engulfed by three
converging currents that constitute the Iraq War – the underlying military conflict,
the battle for political control, and grinding civil strife.
Throughout the war, these currents have ebbed and flowed relentlessly, flooding at
times through phases of intense violence, at others slowing to a comparative trickle,
and Year 5, which ended March 19, 2008, was no exception. The first half of the
year, through September 2007, was the most violent such period of the entire war
for Americans as 565 U.S. troops died. By contrast, the second half of the year was
Casualty totals, both U.S. military and Iraqi, are extracted from iCasualties.org
(www.icasualties.org), to which I am a contributor. iCasualties presents a comprehensive chronicle of
the Iraq War, including extensive links to news sources and other documentation.
The casualty data presented here includes soldiers killed and wounded in action plus non-hostile
deaths. It does not include others who required evacuation from Iraq by medical air transportation
because of non-hostile wounds or for medical reasons. As of the end of Year 5, these numbered 8,273
and 23,052 respectively, 31,325 total. There has been some controversy in Defense Department circles
as to whether this figure should be added to the 33,443 casualties presented in Table 1 to determine a
grand total of casualties for the Iraq war. That grand total would be 64,768.
Summer 2008 | 1
the least violent, with less than half that number, 204, dead, resulting in the lowest
number of casualties annually since the first year of the war (see Table 1).
Success in the Iraq War will be measured first by the level of violence, and
second whether the ebb during the last six months of Year 5 will be sustained and
create the conditions for making substantive political progress.
Table 1. U.S. Military Iraq War Casualties
(Number and % Increase over Previous Year)
The Ebb and flow of the Iraq War to Date
The war has ebbed and flowed for five years along three overlapping
currents, cascading through seven major phases and numerous sub-phases as
illustrated in Figure 1, which displays U.S. military fatalities per week for the entire
duration of the war .
Figure 1. U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq – Five Years Ending March 19, 2008
Total Fatalities Weekly With 4 Week Moving Average Trend Line, Currents and Phases
(A) and (B) denote extended periods of decline in the Fatalitiy Trend Line from comparative highs to extreme lows
This Figure includes a four-week moving-average trend line, which delineates the
underlying rhythm in the weekly data and reveals the phases of the war, which are
identified by the peaks and valleys in the trend line, as follows:
1. Invasion: Mar. 19, 2003 until the fall of Baghdad, Apr. 9, 2003
2. Occupation: Apr. 10, 2003 until the Anniversary Insurgency, Mar. 6, 2004
a. Initial occupation: Apr. 10, 2003 through the second anniversary of 9/11 (2003)
b. Insurgency unleashed: Sept. 12, 2003 through Nov. 20, 2003
c. Counteroffensive: Nov. 21, 2003 through Mar. 6, 2004
3. Escalation: Mar. 7, 2004 until the National Assembly election, Jan. 30, 2005
a. Anniversary Insurgency: Mar. 7, 2004 through the transfer of sovereignty, June 28, 2004
b. Resistance to sovereignty and U.S. Election: June 29, 2004 through Nov. 2, 2004
c. Fallujah Offensive (and Iraqi Election): Nov. 3, 2004 through Jan. 30, 2005.
Battle for Political Control
4. Iraqi elections: Jan. 31, 2005 through the parliamentary election on Dec. 15, 2005.
a. National Assembly elected: Jan. 31, 2005 until its first meeting, Mar. 17, 2005.
b. Transitional Government established: Mar. 18, 2005 until May 11, 2005.
c. Constitution drafted: May 12, 2005 until Aug. 28, 2005.
d. Constitution approved: Aug. 29, 2005 until Oct. 15, 2005.
e. Council of Representatives elected: Oct. 16, 2005 until Dec. 15, 2005
Grinding Civil Strife
5. U.S. disengagement attempted: Dec. 16, 2005 through Sep. 22, 2006.
a. Civil Strife dominates: Dec. 16, 2005 until April 21, 2006
b. Iraqi Government forms and Zarqawi is killed: Apr. 22, 2006 until June 7, 2006
c. Iraqi’s Baghdad Defense Plan, reinforced by the U.S.: June 8, 2006 until Sep. 22,
6. Insurgent Offensive: Sep. 23, 2006 until September 11, 2007
a. U.S. fatalities escalate during Ramadan, Baghdad Defense Plan fails: Sep. 23, 2006 until
Oct. 22, 2006
b. The U.S. mid-term election and its aftermath: Oct. 23, 2006 until Jan. 9, 2007
c. U.S. surge strategy announced and implemented: Jan. 10, 2007 until February 14, 2007
d. U.S. efforts intensified and insurgents respond: February 15, 2007 until June 15, 2007
e. Surge of Operations begins: June 16, 2007 until September 11, 2007
7. Sustained U.S. Surge of Operations: September 12, 2007 until March 19, 2008
a. Insurgents retreat: September 12, 2007 until December 31, 2007
b. Insurgents show signs of resurgence: January 1, 2008until March 19, 2008
The first current, Military Conflict, and the first phase, Invasion, resulted in
high numbers of U.S. troop fatalities as major combat operations of the war began.
With the fall of Baghdad and the beginning of the second Occupation phase,
fatalities declined and stayed at comparatively low levels for nearly a year. Phase
three, Escalation, which began with the Anniversary Insurgency in March 2004, as
insurgents killed four U.S. contractors and hung their bodies from a bridge in
Fallujah, marked a substantial increase in fatalities, causing Year 2 of the war to be
the most lethal for U.S. forces, with over 900 dead, along with nearly 8,500
wounded. With the start of phase four, the Iraqi Elections, in January 2005 however,
casualties moderated, as the second current, Battle for Political Control began, and
factions competed for power in the political as well as the military sphere. Progress
in the political arena, prompted the U.S. to attempt Disengagement during phase
five, encouraged by an extended period of decline in U.S. fatalities through March
2006, the longest and steepest such period of decline during the war up to that
point. In contrast to the decline in U.S. deaths, however, Iraqi fatalities skyrocketed,
punctuated by the bombing of the Askariya mosque in February 2006. This marked
the start of the third current, Grinding Civil Strife, and derailed attempts by U.S.
forces to disengage as they assumed primary responsibility for providing security to
the Iraqi public. Within half a year, with the start of Ramadan in September 2006,
phase six, the Insurgent Offensive, began and extended into Year 5.
The remainder of this paper will recap the events of Year 5 and explain
why, in the context of the prior history of the war, concerns persist about a return
to increased violence as Year 6 progresses.
At the start of Year 5, on March 19, 2007, the U.S. military was ensnared by
the Insurgent Offensive, which had begun 6 months before, and was 6 weeks into
execution of President Bush’s surge strategy in an effort to reverse the gains of
insurgents on the battlefield.
Phase 6 - Insurgent Offensive: Sep. 23, 2006 until September 11, 2007
The seeds of the Insurgent Offensive were sewn in June 2006 by
disappointment with the formation of the Maliki government and with the
assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Frustrated
insurgents unleashed an orgy of violence directed at Iraqi civilians. In response, the
government instituted a defense plan for Baghdad, which ultimately drew the U.S.
military directly into the role of providing security for Iraqi civilians. Figure 2
highlights the spike in civil violence as the Insurgent Offensive began in September.
Figure 2. Iraqi and U.S. Fatalities Weekly, Three Years Ending March 19, 2008
700 The highest Direct U.S.
w eekly total w as Involvement in
600 1,182 in August Grinding Civil
2005 including Strife Begins
500 965 killed in a
stampede at a
400 Baghdad bridge
Iraqi - 40,666 Dead US - 2,470 Dead (16.5 to 1 Ratio)
U.S. Fatalities Escalate During Ramadan, Baghdad Defense Plan Fails: The
insurgent offensive began in earnest with the start of Ramadan on September 23.
2006. During the Muslim holy month, 107 U.S. troops died. The situation in
Baghdad was so dismal that US efforts were described by US generals as
“disheartening” and judged by most observers as a failure.
The U.S. Mid-Term Election and its Aftermath. The extreme violence of the
insurgent offensive formed a backdrop for political activity back in the United
States. Disappointment about conditions in Iraq contributed to the vote during the
2006 mid-term elections for a shift in control of Congress from Republicans to
Democrats. The resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his
replacement by Robert M. Gates, followed immediately. And in December, the Iraq
Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker II and former
Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, released its report.
U.S. Surge Strategy Announced and Implemented. On January 10, 2007, two
months after the mid-term elections, President Bush announced his Iraq surge plan,
setting the stage for injecting 30,000 additional troops into Iraq. On February 10,
General David Petraeus took his post as the new commander of U.S. troops in Iraq,
and four days later, on February 14, U.S. troops made their first major push of the
surge into Baghdad
U.S. Efforts Intensified and Insurgents Respond. As the U.S. launched the
surge, the insurgents responded aggressively. In the 35 days from the initial
engagements of the surge until the start of Year 5 on March 19, 2007, 90 U.S.
soldiers were killed. And for the entire six months of the Insurgent Offensive phase
leading up to that anniversary date, 528 U.S. soldiers died, at an average of nearly 3
per day, the highest rate for such a sustained period of the entire war.
In prior years, insurgents inflicted this high rate of lethality on Americans
but for shorter periods of time, mainly during Ramadan, and then they scaled back
hostilities. This year, they sustained a level of Ramadan-like hostilities in
unprecedented fashion for a full five months after the end of the Muslim holy
As Year 5 began, this unprecedented level of insurgent hostilities continued
unabated, and U.S. military spokesmen cautioned repeatedly that high levels of U.S.
fatalities were to be expected. General Peter Pace, speaking at a June 21 news
conference, summarized the point, quot;It is an expectation that this surge is going to
result in more contact, and therefore more casualties.quot; And Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates added, quot;We certainly hope and pray that that level of casualties will
not be sustained, will not continue, but they are in the middle of a battle and we just
will have to deal with that.quot; In fact, 301 U.S. military fatalities were recorded during
the three months from the beginning of Year 5 through the start of the surge of
Operations in mid-June, extending to nine months the continuous period during
which U.S. fatalities exceeded 3 per day.
Surge of Operations Begins. From the insurgents’ perspective, their offensive,
completing its ninth month as of June 15 was an unequalled success. U.S fatalities,
sustained at a rate of over 3 per day, totaled 829. Attacks on Iraqis continued with
impunity, as over 15,000 security forces and civilians were killed. Frustrations about
a lack of security reinforced paralysis on the political font.
Political progress had been the ultimate aim of the surge strategy. When
President Bush announced the surge in January 2007, he outlined the following
areas for political progress:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary
Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible
improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will
hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.
To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility
for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi
citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share
oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a
better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on
reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To
empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this
year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the
government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process
for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
As the surge began in February, political and civil chaos prevailed. Moqtada
al-Sadr went into hiding, ostensibly restraining his Shiite militia from combat, but
his motives, both military and political remained murky. By June, amid talk of a
summer recess for the National Assembly, and frustrated by a lack of progress,
Sunni politicians began a boycott. This occurred just days after the minarets of the
Askariyah mosque, standing since the dome was destroyed over a year before, were
bombed. And on July 25, the Iraqi national soccer team defeated South Korea
during an Asian Cup match, prompting jubilant celebrations in the streets of
Baghdad, but 50 fans were killed by a car bomb during the day.
Against this backdrop of unprecedented mayhem, the U.S. military
announced, on June 16th, that a surge of operations had begun, taking advantage of
the arrival of the last of the surge troops in Baghdad.
The 2007 surge was reminiscent of events in 2004. Back then, the U.S.
military suffered serious setbacks in Anbar province and ceded the initiative to the
insurgents, who escalated hostilities to a shockingly high level, causing Year 2 of the
war to be the most violent, with 936 U.S. soldiers killed. Desperate to move beyond
the June 2004 transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, and establish momentum for
political progress and the Iraqi Election Cycle, the Fallujah Offensive was launched
in November 2004. This proved to be one of the most violent episodes of the war,
with over 300 U.S. troop fatalities in just 13 weeks, until then the longest and most
violent period of the war, with deaths occurring at a rate of over 3 per day.
Despite the cost, the 2004 Fallujah Offensive was successful in establishing
a comparatively safe environment in which Iraqi elections could proceed. And again
in June 2007, with the establishment of security an urgent priority, and political
progress one of the imperatives of the President’s surge plan, the launching of a
surge of operations was inevitable. Immediately, during the first week of the surge
of operations, ending June 23, 2007, U.S. troops were heavily engaged against
insurgents. 36 U.S. troops died, more than half killed by IED’s in Baghdad. At this
time, the four week moving average trend line of fatalities, as shown in Figure 1,
rose to 30, the highest level since the 2004 Fallujah Offensive. In response, U.S.
Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus struck a cautionary note, stating in an
interview that difficult times lay ahead: “typically, I think historically, counter-
insurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.”
Despite the pessimistic outlook, the Insurgent Offensive began to slow
almost immediately and in a matter of weeks ground to a halt. U.S. fatalities fell
gradually from the trend-line high of 30 per week at the beginning of June to less
than 20 by September 11, 2007, reaching this low level for the first time in six
months. From that point, marking the end of the Insurgent Offensive, U.S. fatalities
began a precipitous decline. As if punctuating the end of the offensive and the start
of their retreat, insurgents carried out the deadliest attack against civilians of the
entire war, killing nearly 800 members of the Kurdish Yazidi sect in Northwestern
Iraq on August 14, 2007. This was the last such large scale attack (defined as an
attack with more than 50 fatalities) to be perpetrated against civilians until February
The Insurgent Offensive phase extended from the start of Ramadan 2006
(September 23) until the eve of Ramadan 2007 (September 11), the longest most
lethal insurgent military campaign of the war. During this Muslim calendar year,
1,079 U.S. soldiers died, more than during any other comparable period. During this
same time, over 7,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded and more than 19,000 Iraqi
civilians and military personnel were killed.
Phase 7 - Sustained U.S. Surge of Operations: September 12, 2007 until March 19, 2008
Insurgents Retreat: As Ramadan 2007 began on September 12, 2007, few observers
realized that the insurgents were ending their offensive and were about to begin a
large scale, protracted retreat. Most, including this author, expected Ramadan to
bring a spike in U.S. fatalities, as it had in previous years, not recognizing that the
insurgents, who had been operating at a high intensity Ramadan-like tempo for an
entire year might choose a different path in 2007. These expectations were fed by
chatter on insurgent web sites warning of extreme violence to come. Just a few days
before that, amid preparations for his first report to Congress, General Petraeus
wrote to the troops of Multi-National Force – Iraq, acknowledging uneven progress
militarily and the continuation of tragic sectarian violence, and expressing frustration
about the lack of progress in the political realm:
Many of us had hoped that this summer would be a time of tangible
political progress at the national level as well. One of the justifications for
the surge, after all, was that it would help create the space for Iraqi leaders
to tackle the tough questions and agree on key pieces of “national
reconciliation” legislation. It has not worked out as we had hoped.
And on September 13, the second day of Ramadan Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-
Rishawi, a leading ally of the U.S. in Anbar province, who had met and shaken
hands with President Bush the week before, was assassinated, highlighting the
challenges to political progress that lay ahead.
But instead of the expected spike in violence, fatalities began to fall. By the
end of Ramadan on October 11, the fatality trend line as shown in figure 1 had
fallen to 10, one third the level in June and half the level at the start of the Muslim
holy month. The trend line remained below 10 for the remainder of Year 5, the
longest stretch at this low level since the Occupation during Year 1 of the war. Iraqi
fatalities also declined during this period, dropping below 200 per week on a
sustained basis for the first time since spring of 2006, and reaching below 100 the
week before Christmas 2007, the first time since February 2006.
These downward trends were widely reported by the U.S. media at the end
of October, when U.S. fatalities for the month, at 38, reached their lowest level
since February 2006, prompting many commentators to declare the surge of
operations a success. In light of this success, 2.200 marines were withdrawn from
Anbar province at the end of September and by the end of November, the first of
the surge brigades to enter Baghdad, with 5,000 troops, was withdrawn from the city
and returned, without replacement to the United States. This was followed in
December by the hand-over of security control in Basra to the Iraqi government
from the British, who withdrew to their desert base.
Despite the sense of palpable progress however, the security situation
remained problematic. On September 16, private security contractors from
Blackwater escorting a state department convoy shot and killed 17 Iraqis in a
disproportionate response to a perceived threat of violence. Even as larger scale,
indiscriminate attacks decreased, the New York Times reported on September 25 a
campaign of assassination targeting officials of the Iraqi government,2 and four days
later at a news conference, General Petraeus commented that quot;Certainly Al Qaeda
has had its Ramadan surgequot;. Turkish troops shelled Kurdish rebels inside Iraqi
territory twice in October, foreshadowing their December 2007 and February 2008
incursions into Iraq. On November 23, 13 Iraqis were killed by a bomb at an
outdoor pet market in Baghdad, the first such attack in a public gathering place in
weeks. And on the same day, three policemen were killed by a bomb at a police
checkpoint in Mosul, highlighting the fact that insurgents, under pressure in Anbar
province, Baghdad and Diyala province had moved to the north of the country to
Still, the trend line in Figure 1 finished 2007 at 4.8 fatalities per week, the
lowest point since March 2004, as total U.S. fatalities during this period numbered
129, dropping to a rate of just over 1 per day. In years past, fatalities trending to a
low point like this were precursors of increasing violence to come, and 2008 to date,
although to a lesser degree than in the past, has proven to be no exception.
Insurgents Show Signs of Resurgence: The reduction in U.S. fatalities at the end
of 2007 was mirrored in the figures for Iraqis, 548 of whom were killed in
December, the smallest number as recorded by iCasualties.org since December
2005. But with the start of 2008, this trend was reversed. On January 1, 30 Iraqis
were killed by a suicide bomber at a funeral in Baghdad, the worst attack there in
months. The Muslim festival of Ashura on January 19, a magnet for violent attacks
on civilians in the past, again proved lethal in 2008, as 70 people were killed in gun
battles in Southern Iraq involving a messianic Shiite cult. For the entire month of
January, Iraqi fatalities increased slightly over December to 554. In February,
however, the increase was substantial, as 674 Iraqis died, including 33 killed by a
suicide bomber in Balad on the 10th and 40 killed on the 24th in Karbala. And in
March as Year 6 began, the total number of Iraqi fatalities exceeded 800, as Shiite
vs. Shiite violence followed by a government crackdown erupted in Basra and
spread throughout Southern Iraq and to Baghdad
The “Insurgent Resurgence” in 2008 targeted U.S. troops as well. On
January 9, six U.S. troops in pursuit of fleeing insurgents were killed in a booby-
trapped house in Diyala province, the largest single day death toll in months. And
on the 22nd, an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle designed to
provide increased protection from IED’s was destroyed in an attack killing one
soldier and signaling increased levels of firepower on the part of insurgents. From
the first of January until the end of Year 5 on March 19, 2008, 88 U.S. troops died,
at a rate of over one per day. But the fatality trend line in Figure 1 spiked to a high
of 9 fatalities per week in February, the highest level in 3 months, before seesawing
to 4 during the week ending March 8, the lowest point of the entire war, and
Alissa J, Rubin, “Campaign Seen Against Iraqi Security Officials,” The New York
Times, September 25, 2007
finishing Year 5 at 7 fatalities per week, comparable to the fatality rate during the
Occupation in Year 1, but well above the recent low points at the end of 2007.
Total U.S. casualties during Year 5 were 6,033, 769 killed and 5,264
wounded and for the war to date, total casualties were 33,443, 3,992 killed and
29,451 wounded (the 4,000th U.S. fatality was recorded on March 23, 2008). Iraqi
fatalities in Year 5 were 13,755, and the total for the three years since iCasualties.org
began tallying these figures in March 2005 was 40,666.
Observations – Political Promises Made and Broken
The absence of political progress set the stage for the high levels of violence
during the Insurgent Offensive, which extended for the entire year ending
September 2007 through the first half of Year 5.
The promise of political progress, as articulated in the President’s surge
plan, contributed to the reduction in violence that followed during the second half
of Year 5 through March 2008.
The Political Promises of 2005, Broken
There was a promise of political progress before the descent back into
violence in 2006. The promise was first made during the Fallujah offensive in 2004,
when the U.S. used its military might to rout the insurgents and create the peaceful
conditions for the first round of Iraqi elections in January 2005. The Sunnis who
were the targets of the Fallujah Offensive boycotted that vote, and a National
Assembly was elected skewed toward the benefit of Shiites and Kurds. But, as the
Iraqi Election cycle proceeded, the Sunnis were gradually drawn into the political
arena. The most important effort to enfranchise the Sunnis came during the
drafting of the Iraqi constitution, which began in May 2005. The U.S. prevailed
upon the controlling Shiites and Kurds to invite a group of Sunnis to participate in
writing the constitution, and eventually 20 percent of the constitutional drafting
committee, approximately 20 individuals, came from the Sunni community. Once
drafted, the vote for approval of the Constitution was scheduled for October 2005,
but sectarian disputes arose, with Shiites in favor and Sunnis opposing the draft. As
a compromise, Sunnis were promised that, to address their concerns, a process to
amend the constitution would be implemented after a new government was formed
at the end of the election cycle. This compromise appeased enough Sunnis to
enable the constitutional referendum to proceed and pass. Then the election of
Parliament was scheduled for December 2005, and Sunnis looking ahead to the
promised constitutional amendments, voted in large numbers.
With high hopes for political progress, the insurgents retreated and U.S.
military fatalities declined steeply (see section A of Figure 1, above). From a high of
23 fatalities per week in November 2005, the fatality trend line declined steadily for
four months to a low of 7 at the end of March 2006.
Soon thereafter however, the insurgents realized that the newly appointed
Maliki government was likely not going to be able to deliver on the promised
constitutional amendments, and violence escalated once again, culminating in the
Insurgent Offensive which began six months later in September 2006.
The Political Promises of 2007, Made
The political dynamics in Iraq during 2007 match almost exactly those that
prevailed two years before. With the surge plan, the U.S. promised to use its
military might to create the secure conditions in which political progress could be
made. The political promises of 2005, certainly not forgotten by the Sunnis, were
recalled by the President in his January 2007 surge speech (as quoted above):
Sharing of oil revenues, reconstruction of infrastructure, provincial elections, de-
Baathfication reform, and last but not least the constitutional amendment process
promised in 2005. And with the surge of operations that began in June 2007,
insurgents joined in a serious effort to create the secure conditions needed for
political progress, on the Sunni side by forming Concerned Local Citizens groups
and Awakening Councils, and on the Shiite side by abiding to a ceasefire as declared
by Moqtada al-Sadr.
With high hopes for political progress, just like 2005, the insurgents
retreated and U.S. military fatalities again declined steeply (see section B of Figure1,
above). From a high of 30 fatalities per week at the beginning of June 2007, the
fatality trend line declined steadily for seven months, to a low of 4.8 at the end of
In this context the events of 2006 and the start of the Insurgent Offensive
represent a frightful precedent. And the up-tick in violence during the “Insurgent
Resurgence at the start of 2008 and the beginning of Year 6 is ominous indeed. If
political progress does not materialize and violence continues to increase, the results
will be tragic indeed for Iraqis and the American troops that support them.
Political progress in Iraq has been all but absent since the Insurgent
Offensive began in 2006. After numerous fits and starts, in February 2008 the Iraqi
Parliament finally passed laws concerning amnesty, a budget and provincial elections
under heavy pressure form the Bush Administration. But much other needed
legislation remains mired in dispute. And the Iraqis’ commitment to the three laws
that did pass is questionable. The election law, for example, was vetoed two weeks
after passage by Iraq’s presidency council amid complaints from Shiite politicians.
Only in March, after pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, was it reinstated.
As a result of the events leading up to the Insurgent Offensive in 2006, we
know that the insurgents will be patient when it is in their interest. But we also
know that their patience is finite, and that they will resort to violence if promises are
As Year 6 of the Iraq War begins, recent increases in violence may be an
indication that insurgent patience may be dissipating again. Combine this with the
ancient sectarian animosities that have persisted for hundreds of years in the region
and we are left with this question: Will the Iraqis ever muster enough patience to
enable the U.S. to deliver on the promise of political progress that underlies the
surge – indeed our entire enterprise - there?