Notes on Iraqi Casualty ratios

As part of a recurring but irregular series of posts, here is last month’s Iraqi government claims on kill ratios via the AP

Figures from the ministries of health and interior showed that during April, 686 civilians were killed in politically motivated violence, along with 190 insurgents, 54 policemen and 22 Iraqi soldiers.

Eighty-two coalition troops — including 76 Americans, three Italians, one Romanian, one Britain and one Australian — died in Iraq during the same period.

So the insurgent forces lost 190, and the anti-insurgent forces lost 158, so the counter insurgent force is finally beating the unity kill rates that they were claiming for the past year.

However, this data seems very fishy. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count lists via Western press reports 201 Iraqi military or police deaths. The Opinionated Bastard has a good graph of Iraqi police casualties as compiled by Brookings Iraq Index which shows 150+ police casualties.

So even going with what seems to be underreported data, the Iraqi government is claiming a kill ratio at less than 6:5. That is not the sign of a security service that is beating an insurgency. And if you want to look at the ICC or Brookings numbers, the insurgency, is beating the counter-insurgent force which seems to be a fairly consistent trend as I have documented elsewhere in my archives.

There is no real change of trend going on here. And these numbers get worse as soon as you try to measure combat intensity becuase US casualties are lower in this war compared to other wars due to significantly increased body armor and vastly superior medical care. John Robb does some static equivilancy analysis and comes to a startling conclusion:

That would put the total fatality rate (without armor and improved medical care) at closer to 10,000 for the last three years. Given that there was little insurgent activity in the first year after the invasion, the total fatality rate adjusted to accurately compare to Vietnam is 5,000 a year. Also, given the fact that there are 1/3, on average, of the troops we had in Vietnam this comparable rate of attrition is amazingly high. This war is nearly three times as intense as Vietnam.

This is a number higher than other experts have suggested; for instance Phillip Carter in a 2004 Slate article noted:

After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today’s grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.

Experts will disagree on the degree of combat intensity, but there is an agreement across time and methodologies indicates that the US is fighting a very capable and lethal insurgency. It has sustained itself for three years and maintains a level of operation that the US and Iraqi government forces can not suppress with military force. It is incapable of conquering and holding ground inhabited by an organized and hostile population, but it can not be effectively and permanently displaced from its populations of support.

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