Iraq, Part 1.1
Just a quick response to Andrew Sullivan's hypothesis that the reason the geographical pattern of US deaths has remained static could be because the Administration refuses to risk American troops in areas where the insurgency is 'spreading'. He observes:
But it also seems to me that military deaths may not be the best way to analyze this. After all, the White House may well have been withdrawing troops from sensitive areas in order to minimize casualties in the run-up to elections (perhaps prior to an attack on Fallujah in November?).
How to square this with observed events? The best way to minimize American casualties in the short term would have been to withdraw them from high-combat areas like Al-Anbar Province and Sadr City and fall back onto solid perimeters or bases in the open desert. That would cut US casualties by a dramatic percentage. The empirical problem with Sullivan's hypothesis is that of the 52 Americans who have died in September the vast majority were killed in patrols, "stabilization operations" or convoys in Al-Anbar which are offensive operations (although any good defense has active patrolling). For example last 12 Americans to die (40-52) were killed in patrols on while conducting "security and stability operations in Al-Anbar province". The last three American casualties (50, 51 and 52 of September 16, 2004) may have been the three who perished in Operation Hurricane or events associated with it.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2004 – A precision strike on a compound near Fallujah has killed approximately 60 terrorists, Multinational Force Iraq officials said today.
The strike destroyed three buildings in which members of Abu Musab Zarqawi terrorist group were meeting. The strike hit the compound near the village of Qaryat ar Rufish. The village is southeast of Fallujah and southwest of Baghdad, officials in Baghdad said. According to a release, sources said about 90 foreign fighters were meeting when the strike hit.
Those who escaped the initial strike escaped to a nearby village. Multinational forces discontinued the engagement when there was a danger of killing civilians. The multinational force also took out a terrorist target in Fallujah earlier in the day. Officials said the air strike destroyed a home used by the Zarqawi network to store ammunition and the plan attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces and multinational forces.
Details are sketchy about Operation Hurricane launched by soldiers and Marines in Ramadi. The operation, according to a release, is to find and remove illegal weapons and to disrupt the Daham terrorist network. Officials said the Daham network is affiliated with Zarqawi and is responsible for attacks against Iraqis and member of the multinational force in Anbar province. Officials with the 1st Marine Division said the operation is under the laws of the Iraqi interim government.
Near Karbala, Iraqi police, Iraqi National Guardsmen and members of the Polish- led Multinational Division Central- South conducted searches that netted nine suspects wanted by the Iraqi Police and a number of weapons and attendant ammunition. Three Marines were killed in Anbar province today. One was killed in action and two died of wounds. There are no other details on the action.
The entire sequence of actions described above is agressive in character. It does not look like gun-shy behavior. More on this later, but I think the more natural conclusion (here's Occam's Razor again) is that troops die where the fighting is. You could make the contrary argument, but it's hard.