According to U.S. military figures, the level violence in Iraq has been reduced by 83% from last year. To arrive at this figure, the Pentagon compared the first three weeks of Ramadan this year, which began on September 1st (evening of August 31st on the Muslim calendar) with the same period last year. However, last year, Ramadan did not begin until almost the middle of September. Islamic militias and militant groups typically refrain from armed attacks during Ramadan, so by including weeks prior to the holy month from last year, this provides a misleading comparison.
There’s no doubt that the level of violence has indeed dropped dramatically, but the U.S. government has sought to propagandize the gains in security that have been made, downplaying the level of violence that does still continue and attributing the gains to last year’s “surge” of military troops sent to Iraq.
The Pentagon gives the figure of a 77% reduction in violence over the three month period of June through August compared with the same months last year. Sectarian killings were 96% lower than last year, the military said, citing the example of 26 deaths due to sectarian violence in Baghdad over the summer compared with over 1,200 last year.
The level of violence began dropping as sectarian violence resulted in the cleansing of neighborhoods. As areas became more fully populated and under control of either Sunni or Shia Muslims, the number of violent clashes began to wane. Other factors contributed greatly to the decline in violence, such as the decision by Sunni militias to turn against terrorist elements, including other Sunni groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. military observed this trend and encouraged it, even providing arms to the same Sunni militias that had formerly been engaged in armed resistance to the U.S. occupation. These groups came to be known alternatively as the “Awakening Councils” or “Sons of Iraq”. Other factors that helped bring down the level of violence include the withdraw of foreign occupying forces from the south of Iraq and the decision by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to order the Mahdi Army and other groups under his sway to stand down and join the political process.
Tensions in Iraq are high as the U.S. is preparing to turn over its support efforts of the “Awakening Councils” to the Iraqi government. Many Iraqis fear that if the Shiite-dominated government misuses its authority over the Sunni groups and misuses its, sectarian violence could once again escalate.