Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Numbers, Sources and Assertions

Here's a riddle: Why would the New York Times cite Iraqi sources to give the number of alleged defections in the Iraqi officer corps, while an American source is used to give the overall number of defections among both officers and servicemen?

James Glanz, the author of this front-page article today, quotes numbers given to him by anonymous “Iraqi military officials” whose estimates ran from “several dozen to more than 100” officers “who refused to fight during the Basra operation”, but Glanz never explains the discrepancy in these varying estimates. Furthermore, Glanz does not get these Iraqi sources of his to give him an overall number for all officers and servicemen who refused to fight, and he doesn’t provide a breakdown for how many of these officers served in the police force and how many others served in the Iraqi Army.

For an overall number, Glanz relies on an anonymous “senior American military official” who wishy-washily says “that he understood that 1,000 to 1,500 Iraqi forces had deserted or underperformed.” Glanz then gleefully tells us that “would represent a little over 4 percent of the total” yet never tells us how many actually ‘deserted’ and how many actually ‘underperformed’.

Readers ought to be told these things, preferably backed-up by eponymous [meant to say, "named"] sources who aren’t so vague, because there’s a big difference between desertion and dereliction of duty or the failure to follow orders; it’s the difference between death by an execution squad and a dishonorable discharge.

And then the story does something funny by downplaying its own opening sentences:

The senior American military official said the number of officers was “less than a couple dozen at most,” but conceded that the figure could rise as the performance of senior officers was assessed.

But most of the deserters were not officers. The American military official said, “From what we understand, the bulk of these were from fairly fresh troops who had only just gotten out of basic training and were probably pushed into the fight too soon.”

“There were obviously others who elected to not fight their fellow Shia,” the official said, but added that the coalition did not see the failures as a “major issue,” especially if the Iraqi government dealt firmly with them.
What is this? Is the New York Times trying to mess with our brains?

Maliki, for his own part, is promising to deal firmly with any signs of wavering:

“Everyone who was not on the side of the security forces will go into the military courts,” Mr. Maliki said in a news briefing in the Green Zone. “Joining the army or police is not a trip or a picnic, there is something that they have to pay back to commit to the interests of the state and not the party or the sect.”

“They swore on the Koran that they would not support their sect or their party, but they were lying,” he said.
Interestingly, Ambassador Ryan Crocker back-paddled today in Glanz’s piece on what he had been quoted as saying to Michael Gordon in yesterday’s piece regarding the authorship of the Basra tribal plan. I don’t know if he did that because Talisman Gate called him out on it, but anyway here’s the accurate version:

The tribal element [Maliki] managed himself, as far as I can see,” he said. “You may recall he had a series of meetings with different tribal leaders, three or four of them, maybe more. That was something he focused on almost from the beginning, and pressed it hard straight through and has seen it pay off. Did he have counsel to do it, I don’t know. But he is the one who did it.
Here’s how I see it: about 550 policemen (around 50 of them officers) are up for disciplinary action across all of Iraq, not just Basra. As for the Iraqi Army, less than 250 are facing various forms of legal action or reprimands; I don’t have a reliable number for how many of those are officers though I’ve been led to believe that it is less than 20.

Overall, we’re talking about a total of 800-900 across all of Iraq, and not just Basra as the New York Times tried to obliquely portray it. That’s 800-900 out of the estimated 700,000 soldiers and policemen who now serve in Iraq’s various security and military outfits. I’m no math wizard, but I think that’s about 0.12 percent. Speaking for myself, I can live with these numbers.

But what I really want to tackle today is The Washington Post’s front-page story today by Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londono. Oh my, oh my, I can't believe that anyone would seriously write something like this up without having a perversely masochistic yearning for getting all tarred and feathered. My own theory is that the WaPo bureau in Baghdad was so envious of all the attention—more accurately described as ridicule—that Talisman Gate had focused on what Glanz and his colleagues over at the NYTimes bureau were reporting that an incensed Raghavan was determined to write something so outlandish so as to draw my notice.

Well, it worked.

Take these unattributed, unqualified stand-alone paragraphs for starters:

The offensive, which triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad that left about 600 people dead, unveiled the weaknesses of Maliki's U.S.-backed government and his brash style of leadership. On many levels, the offensive strengthened the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The United States has spent more than $22 billion to build up Iraq's security forces, but they were unable to quell the militias. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting, a senior Iraqi military official said. Maliki had to call on U.S. and British commanders for support. In some areas, such as Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, U.S. forces took the lead in fighting the cleric's Mahdi Army militiamen.

And it was Iran that helped broker an end to the clashes, enhancing its image and illustrating its influence over Iraq's political players.
Errmmm, didn’t your own WaPo editorial cast doubts on such assertions just yesterday?

It seems that Raghavan is so convinced that the false narratives that he wrote during the first days of the Basra operation are unassailable and are here to stay that they do not need to be backed-up any further with sourcing and qualifiers.

When it comes to the numbers game, the WaPo not only goes overboard but contradicts itself within the span of the same article:

Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting, a senior Iraqi military official said.

A senior official in Iraq's Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss military operations publicly, said Iraqi troops were overwhelmed by the second day of fighting.

"I was afraid the Iraqi forces would break," he said.

The official said he estimated that 30 percent of the Iraqi troops abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached. He also said that soldiers had been hindered by ammunition and food shortages and that some Iraqi police troops, who were supposed to be backing the Iraqi army, had actually supported the militias.

The official said the militias had 12,000 to 15,000 fighters -- roughly the same number as Iraqi troops.
There were 45,000-50,000 soldiers and policemen operating under Operation Cavalry Charge in Basra. But let’s take Raghavan’s source at face value and compute what 30 percent of 15,000 comes up to: 4,500 soldiers and policemen ‘defected’ in Basra, according to the Washington Post.

If that’s the case, then why write earlier in the piece that “hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting” when the assertion is closer to the thousands?

Then Raghavan pulls the oldest trick of Baghdad’s journalistic sub-culture: quoting Mahmoud Othman, an old and grumpy Kurdish MP. Othman is a reliable go-to guy for the craziest on-the-record quotes because he’s been insane for many decades now. This is not a hidden secret among Iraq’s political elite.

Here’s another of Raghavan easily challenged and unreliable assertions:

But Iraqi security forces, whose leaders are widely believed to be members of the Supreme Council and, less so, Dawa, have been detaining hundreds of Sadr's followers, prompting allegations of torture and other abuses.
Oh really? Give me some names then of Supreme Council and Dawa cadres who lead Iraq’s security forces. It wouldn’t be Defense Minister Abdel-Qader al-Obaidi, since he’s Sunni. It won’t be the Chief of Staff of the Armed Services, since he’s a Kurd. And it won’t be the Deputy Chief of Staff since he is a wine-imbibing, highly-polished Shia. How about Division commanders? Or even Battalion commanders? How about the head of Military Intelligence? How about the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service?

Moving on to the Ministry of Interior, we find that Jawad al-Bolani, the minister, ran on Ahmad Chalabi’s slate in the last election, and if anything he’d be considered a fellow-traveler of the Sadrists. The only high-ranking Da’awa Party member that I can think that would fit Raghavan’s assertion is the mild-mannered and very urbane Adnan al-Asadi, the long-serving Deputy Minister for Administrative Affairs and I’m not even sure whether he’s still in place.

Here’s another of Raghavan’s inexplicable assertions:

By distancing himself from Maliki's government, which is widely seen as sectarian, inefficient and corrupt, Sadr apparently hopes to bolster his credentials as an Iraqi nationalist.
Huh? Is Raghavan saying that the Sadrist movement is not seen as sectarian or corrupt?

And doesn’t this sentence contradict the impression formed by Hussein Falluji, the rabidly Sunni MP who Raghavan quotes a couple of paragraphs ahead as saying that he now admires Maliki’s decisiveness and courage?

Falluji is a bad, bad dude. He’s nonchalantly told friends of mine that he had been actively planning to assassinate them before he had been voted in to parliament and that unfortunately he hadn’t gotten around to it. If he’s rooting for Maliki, then something big has shifted.

But Raghavan isn’t interested in following up that line because he’s got better quotes from that anonymous Iraqi defense official saying:

The Iraqi army, meanwhile, received crucial air support from U.S. and British forces. "If the British and American forces were not there, the Mahdi Army would have gained a victory," he said.
Yes, a dozen airstrikes and two dozen military observers saved Maliki’s behind. We’re supposed to believe all of Raghavan’s assertions, no matter how illogical they may sound.

Seldom has so much error fit into so little print space. Well done, Sudarsan Raghavan, for you are truly talented in the acrobatic arts of lie-packing.

Moving on, I spoke to someone who spent some time hanging out with Maliki today. My source says that he’s never seen the Prime Minister in higher spirits. Maliki allegedly said that he didn’t imagine that the crime cartels in Basra would crumble so quickly and that the Mahdi Army would be so disorganized. Maliki was especially proud of the Iraqi operation to secure the oil terminals of Abu Floos yesterday.

Maliki also allegedly said that he’s considering a proposal to revoke the visas and work permits of about a dozen western journalists who have engaged in irresponsible and dangerous propaganda. Maliki is saying that this isn’t a question of press freedoms but rather it is a necessary measure to contain the anarchy of malicious rhetoric, especially during wartime. The disciplinary measure, should Maliki choose to enact it since it is unclear at this point whether he will go the full way, targets individual journalists rather that their news bureaus and invites their bosses to send in a fresh batch of reporters who are not as venal as those ones currently working in Baghdad.

It should be noted that all of Iraq’s neighbors use visas and access as disciplinary measures against western reporters who may write things damaging to their nations’ reputations. If anything, there’s way too much press freedom in Iraq and irresponsible ‘journalists’ can get away with writing almost anything. The judicial system is yet to adapt to slapping controls on such excessive margins for libel and propaganda, so Maliki’s only option at this time may be to yank some press passes and send them packing.

Talisman Gate would strongly support such a measure.

In other news: Colin Kahl, Obama’s chief guy on Iraq, is a big credit to an otherwise unpleasant campaign. I have always liked and respected Kahl’s work and his latest confidential memo soberly calls for keeping 60,000-80,000 troops in Iraq through at least 2010 even though his candidate had promised that all U.S. personnel would be out of there by that date.

Read all about it in this scoop by Eli Lake.


Blogger bg said...


hi TG..


[Interestingly, Ambassador Ryan Crocker back-paddled today in Glanz’s piece on what he had been quoted as saying to Michael Gordon in yesterday’s piece regarding the authorship of the Basra tribal plan. I don’t know if he did that because Talisman Gate called him out on it, but anyway here’s the accurate version:]

i obviously presented my point in
yesterday's post incoherently..

let me try & clear it up..

Q: did Ambassador Crocker backtrack, or did the NYT backtrack??

what Crocker stated to the press..

i'm sure you'll find the answer here..


[AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Actually, I don't see it as a set-back for Iraq. And, you know, again, it depends on what happens going forward. There is still a major, major problem in Basra.

But both as an indication of, you know, intention, resolve, ability, they moved something like a division's worth of forces in very short order from all over in the south, this area, one brigade from Anbar. You know, they did it themselves, they got them there, and they got in the fight. So I think that's important.

We have always said that gains here are fragile. And I have always said, "Look, there are going to be set-backs." But in this instance, when the fighting in Iraq came about because the government was taking on militias -- not much fun, obviously, when you're underneath it, as we were -- but I think the net result was clearly a positive step forward for the government.

And you know, were there deals? Like everything else, that's not an engagement you win purely by military means. The prime minister is employing the economic dimension of power right now. And, you know, good on him. I think, in many respects, it's the most important weapon, and he is using it.

He has started an engagement with the tribes, too, as you know. And he also referred to, in a statement, where the southern tribes, that I think then were kind of in the middle or estranged from the government, and the established political parties have now, in large numbers. It was a massive gathering yesterday of individuals signing up as security volunteers down in Basra, I mean thousands of them. So, it seems like the tribes have moved over.

We can talk about the Sadr statement, if you will. I think that clearly had an impact. But it was a Sadr statement, it was not a Sadr – it was not a joint statement. And in my interpretation, at least, it looks like the Sadr trend -- Sayyad Muqtada himself -- were not all that comfortable with the way things were going, a major battle of extremist militias associated with him against government forces.

So, again, you know, a complex picture. There were obviously -- I saw the prime minister yesterday. He was pretty sober about this, not coming back in any kind of triumphal spirit, but you know, serious, major, said that there would clearly have to be a lessons learned exercise, which is also a very healthy development. But also, absolutely certain that he had done the right thing by taking these guys on, and committed to staying with it until he gets Basra to a better place.

So, I see it as, overall, you know -- always there are pluses and minuses here. I mean, nothing is ever going to be completely one thing or another, at least not here. But, overall, I see this as a positive development.]

btw: i just scanned this, but will now go back
& read it in it's entirety when i have the time..

more here..


1:35 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger bg said...


me again.. :D

i didn't see a link for the NYT article
by Glanz.. so i thought i'd post it..

More Than 1,000 in Iraq’s Forces Quit Basra Fight

and thanks for the Obamessiah link.. (thumbsup)


1:53 PM, April 04, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Media blasted on bogus Basra reports.


2:00 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger bg said...


OT.. HT - GP

Iraqi Resistance Council Calls
Up Arab Summit in Damascus


[SITE Intel Group posted this headline yesterday:

"Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance Calls to Arab Summit in Damascus..."

I have no more information on this since the translation is only provided to SITE Monitoring Service subscribers. It is interesting, though, that the terrorist organizations in Iraq are calling up Damascus to talk to representatives at the Arab Summit that was held in Damascus this week.]


[The Iraqi democracy objected to the summit's final draft:

Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdel-Mahdi objected to the final declaration issued by the Arab summit in Damascus Sunday because it failed to condemn terrorism in Iraq and did not acknowledge Baghdad's efforts to foster national reconciliation.

Half of the Arab leaders boycotted the conference in Damascus including Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.]

Half of the Arab leaders Boycotted the Arab Summit in Damascus

that should be the MSM HEADLINE AROUND THE GLOBE (not their faux Basra Iraq garbage)..


Obama Adviser Calls for Troops
To Stay in Iraq Through 2010..


[The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In “Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement,” Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government “the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000–80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).”]

ya think?? man, one thing is for certain, they DO NOT HEAR BUSH'S WORDS.. yet they have been persistently "echoing" them from the get go.. gah!!


3:10 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger bg said...


thank you Nick @ 2:00 PM.. (thumbsup)


3:14 PM, April 04, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

bg, stop hogging the comments section. Have you asked Nibras his permission to hog his comments section?????

5:06 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger Harrywr2 said...


"I’m no math wizard, but I think that’s about 0.12 percent. Speaking for myself, I can live with these numbers.'

My sources tell me that there were about 30,000 ISF in the Basra Op...and about 1,200 failed to perform their duty. Which makes for 4%.

Desertion is a legal term...it is a long way from "Abandoning Ones Post" and "Absent Without Leave".

Having said that..the Desertion Rate for US Soldiers during the Vietnam War was pretty close to 5%.

If one asks US Soldies what is the #1 reason they don't desert it isn't love of country, sense of duty etc. It is they would be abandoning their brothers.

Commanders call that sense of "Brotherhood" unit cohesion. It takes time to build. Most of the units sent to Basra haven't had enough time to buld that "Brotherhood".

7:34 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger Brian H said...

I suspect you're underestimating the achievements of the IA. I don't know what their casualties were, but I suspect it was absolutely trivial compared to the militias. All the IA training has been for this kind of fighting, and I think they're pushing Sadrists right off long-held home turf. This is a rolling disaster for JAM et al.

The media have covered themselves in dung for sure, this time.

9:43 PM, April 04, 2008

Blogger Seaberry said...

That was brutal...if I were those reporters; I'd be looking for a new profession.

7:08 AM, April 05, 2008

Blogger Don Cox said...

I do not think it would be a good idea to expel bad reporters. For one thing, they would simply go home and write worse rubbish as Iraq "experts". For another, it is the thin end of the wedge. You start by expelling people for harmful reporting, and soon they are being expelled for "insulting the President" and other paranoid reasons. It is much easier to begin censorship than to end it.

1:29 PM, April 05, 2008

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Dear Don,

If it is any consolation, I am getting word that Maliki has decided against the measure to expel these journalists on the same premises you warned about. I can also confirm that the list included the names of 13 western reporters.

I still support the measure and I think the situation warrants it. These reporters cannot be reasoned with; they will irresponsibly propagate their agendas no matter what.

However, Maliki could do other things like prosecute them for possessing illegal substances and bribing government bureaucrats and the other illegal things they are getting away with.



1:56 PM, April 05, 2008

Blogger bg said...


TG.. albeit the gall of these two raises ones blood pressure.. i think you'll get a kick out of this..

Speaker Pelosi + Ayman al-Zawahiri = 2


[Thursday April 3, 2008--
Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al- Zawahiri on Iraq:

"First: I expect the Jihadi influence to spread after the Americans’ exit from Iraq, and to move towards Jerusalem (with Allah’s permission). As for the militias mentioned, they have failed to eliminate the Jihad with the help of what is called the strongest power in the history of mankind."

Thursday April 3, 2008--
Speaker of the House Democrat Nancy Pelosi on Iraq:

What I hope we don't hear from General Petraeus next week is any glorification of what has just happened in Basra and a presentation that says that the Iraqi forces went in there, did the job, violence is diminished, mission accomplished, because the fact is there are many questions that arise in relationship to Basra... So we have to know the real ground truth of what is happening there, not put a shine on events because of the resolution that looks less violent.]


2:23 PM, April 05, 2008

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