Tally of Sectarian Deaths in Iraq Questioned

Gen. David Petraeus cited specific numbers to highlight U.S. military success in Iraq. But skeptics are suspicious of the declining totals he reported on victims of sectarian violence, saying the figures do not account for all victims.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And General Petraeus' use of numbers to highlight what the U.S. military considers as success in Iraq has drawn criticism all this week. Some openly accuse the general of cherry-picking information.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay takes a look at one of those statistics.

JAMIE TARABAY: In response to criticism over the methodology General Petraeus has used in his testimony in Washington, the U.S. military in Iraq has released a statement in which it defined how it counts the victims of sectarian violence; an event and any associated civilian deaths caused by murders or executions, kidnappings, direct fire, et cetera, was how the statement put it. But the U.S. military doesn't include in this count victims who were killed by a shot to the head. It doesn't consider those deaths sectarian.

By leaving out this number, the U.S. military is able to claim that sectarian killings across Iraq have dropped by 55 percent. The number of executions has gone down, but just slightly, and only when compared to last year - the most violent in Iraq since the war.

And while the U.S. military doesn't count those numbers, the Iraqi government does. An Iraqi official at the interior ministry says it considers this number that the U.S. military has chosen to ignore one of its greatest indicators of sectarian violence.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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