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Best month in Iraq since November 2006 or worst July ever?

A reader writes in to protest this morning's Brief, in which I wrote:

After a tough three months, only 74 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq during July. That number may go up as more reports come in, but the total should still be the lowest death toll since November 2006. Gen. Ray Odierno says it's too early to tell if there's a trend, but Vice President Dick Cheney is ready to declare the surge a success.

The reader: 

Read up a little on this stuff. July is like a furnace in Iraq. The number of deaths always dips in July. It's like August in France - no one's there. But the number of US troops killed in Iraq in 2007 is almost double the number killed in 2006. 43 were killed in 2006. This year 74.

Read about it here.

Looking at the Iraq Coalition Casualties website used by the New York Times, it's clear our reader is right. Here are ICC's stats for U.S. military deaths during each July since 2003:

  • July 2003: 48
  • July 2004: 54
  • July 2005: 54
  • July 2006: 43
  • July 2007: Now up to 78

In addition, ICC records Iraqi "security forces and civilian deaths" as 1,670 for July 2007, as compared with 1,280 for July 2006.

A shift in strategy from force protection to protection of Iraqi civilians was always supposed to produce more U.S. casualties, but the Pentagon needs—at a minimum—to be consistent about how it spins these numbers. For instance, this unequivocal explanation from Gen. Odierno doesn't stand up to scrutiny:

Going into those areas we knew would be tough in the beginning," he said. "We have now taken control of these areas. Since then, we have started to see a slow gradual reduction in casualties."

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