Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Numbers Game

Earlier today I read an article in the Washington Post. I bookmarked it because it contained a paragraph which stood out like a beacon. I intended to come back to it after I'd had some lunch and that's where I was when I started to write this. The problem is, the sentences which I thought were so important are no longer contained in the article.

I've checked back to see if I bookmarked the wrong article but I'm pretty sure I didn't. I subscribe to the Washington Post daily email so a quick check of my inbox confirms that it's the same article I read this morning.

As I see it there are two possibilities here. Either I imagined these sentences and have been thinking about the post I intended to write in some sort of mad delusional state, or, the offending lines have been removed from the article. If anyone has a hard copy of the Washington Post article I'd love to know what it says.

In the meantime, here's what I think it said when I read it this morning (from memory but it was this morning so I'm reasonably confident that it's an accurate relflection of what it said).
A US general said that only one battalion of Iraqi security forces was currently fully functional. The US military has previous stated that three Iraqi battalions were available. The general did not provide any indication as to the reason for this fall in the preparedness of the Iraqi security services.
If this is true it obviously has very serious implications for the whole coalition strategy in Iraq and I intended to write a post along those lines. But it seems that I can't write that post because the relevant sentences don't exist. What's going on here then? Am I living in a world of make believe?

I thought I'd do a bit of checking. Yesterday's Washington Post had an article on what the US military has been saying about Iraqi security forces. There is currently only one Iraqi battalion which the US military considers is able to operate without coalition supervision. The US military had previously claimed that a brigade and two battalions were capable of operating independently. No specific reasons have been put forward to explain this reduction in numbers.

If you're anything like me you won't have the faintest idea how many people there are in a battalion. I looked it up. The US military battalion contains 300 - 1,000 people. And a brigade is normally three or four battalions. So, I can quite justifiably write this:

US General George Casey has said that as few as 1,000 Iraqi security personel are currently able to operate independently of coalition forces in Iraq. This represents a reduction of at least 65% on previous figures.

It doesn't look like it'd be unjustified to say" less than 1,000" but let's be charitable and call it a nice round thousand. Just think about that for a minute. 1,000 fully trained and trusted personal out of a population of 25 million people. That's 1 person in 25,000. Or, if you look at it another way, it's one battalion out of a total of 116. Less than 1% of the Iraqi security services are fully dependable. The remaining 99% still need the "support" of coalition troops. This is after two and a half years worth of efforts to strengthen the Iraqi security forces. It's a nightmare.

And is it getting better or is it getting worse? Rumsfeld would no doubt say that the question was irrelevant. I beg to differ.

I do still find it rather peculiar that the Washington Post felt the need to remove the reference to this from the article they printed today. Any suggestions as to why this happened?

The general's remarks were widely reported on Friday. I really should have noticed them then. Better late than never though, eh?

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