Senate Democrats

Fact Check: Today’s Testimony Offers Few Answers

Today in his prepared remarks, General Petraeus made the following statements regarding sectarian violence in Iraq. Unfortunately, his remarks raise as many questions as answers.

General Petraeus Claimed the Pentagon’s Methodology for Tracking Sectarian Killings Was Reviewed By Two US Intelligence Agencies, But Did Not Name Them. In his prepared remarks, General Petraeus argued, “We endeavor to ensure our analysis of that data is conducted with rigor and consistency, as our ability to achieve a nuanced understanding of the security environment is dependent on collecting and analyzing data in a consistent way over time. Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.” [LINK]

  • However, U.S. Intelligence Officials Questioned Pentagon’s Methods of Tracking Violence in Iraq. “The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through the front, it’s criminal.’” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]
  • A Military Spokesman Admitted It Did Not Track Shiite-on-Shiite or Sunni-on-Sunni Violence. “According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military’s statistics. ‘Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances,’ the spokesman said, ‘we do not track this data to any significant degree.’” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]
  • And, the GAO Found Claims of Decreased Sectarian Violence Could Not Be Verified. “On trends in sectarian violence, we could not determine if sectarian violence had declined since the start of the Baghdad Security Plan. The administration’s July 2007 report stated that MNF-I trend data demonstrated a decrease in sectarian violence since the start of the Baghdad Security Plan in mid-February 2007. The report acknowledged that precise measurements vary, and that it was too early to determine if the decrease would be sustainable.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]

General Petraeus Claimed the Number of Car Bombings Has Come Down. In his prepared remarks, General Petraeus argued, “The number of car bombings and suicide attacks has also declined in each of the past 5 months, from a high of some 175 in March, as this chart shows, to about 90 this past month. While this trend in recent months has been heartening, the number of high profile attacks is still too high, and we continue to work hard to destroy the networks that carry out these barbaric attacks.” [LINK]

  • However, The Military Does Not Include Car Bombings in Sectarian Violence Statistics. “According to U.S. military figures, an average of 1,000 Iraqis have died each month since March in sectarian violence. That compares with about 1,200 a month at the start of the security plan, the military said in an e-mailed response to queries. This does not include deaths from car bombings, which the military said have numbered more than 2,600 this year.” [LA Times, 9/4/07 ]
  • And, The Number of Car Bombings In Iraq Was Five Percent Higher in July 2007 than in December 2006. The number of car bombings in July actually was 5 percent higher than the number recorded last December, according to statistics given to the McClatchy news organization, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same. [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/15/07]

General Petraeus Claimed the Number of Ethno-Sectarian Deaths Has Come Down By Over 55 Percent. In his prepared remarks, General Petraeus argued, “The number of ethno-sectarian deaths, an important subset of the overall civilian casualty figures, has also declined significantly since the height of the sectarian violence in December. Iraq-wide, as shown by the top line on this chart, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths has come down by over 55%” [LINK]

  • However, The Overall Death Toll in Iraq Has Risen. According to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which provided figures to The New York Times 2,318 civilians died violently in the country in August, compared with 1,980 in July. Statistics compiled from Iraqi government sources by Reuters and The Associated Press also showed significant increases, although the precise figures varied. [New York Times, 9/2/07]
  • And The Comptroller General Said There Were Various Sources of Violence Statistics in U.S. Government Which Did Not Agree. “Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers — most of which are classified — are often confusing and contradictory. ‘Let’s just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree,’ Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]