MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The U.S. military believes that overall violence in Iraq is on a downward trend. Earlier this week, the military released numbers that show a drop in weekly attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians. Those attacks are now at their lowest level since February 2006, when a sacred Shiite shrine was attacked by Sunni extremists.
NPR Defense correspondent Guy Raz is with us. And Guy, first, tell us about these numbers that that military is citing.
GUY RAZ, Host:
Well, the military is basically saying there has been about a 60 percent drop in Iraqi civilian casualty since June. They're also saying that since February of this past year, there has been a two-thirds reduction in overall attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians. And then finally, over the past two months, there's been a pretty significant decline in the number of U.S. troops who have been killed in hostile attacks. All of these figures seem to suggest that things are moving in a different direction in Iraq. But the military is still relatively cautious about it.
And I spoke to the military spokesman in Iraq, Rear Admiral Greg Smith, and I asked him about it. And I asked him what all of these figures mean.
GREG SMITH: You cannot put your finger on any single factor or any single statistic to really tell you what's going on inside Iraq. What is promising is that the bulk of the statistics you'd want to see turning down are turning down. And the bulk of statistics you want to see turning up are turning up.
RAZ: You know, even with all of these positive trends, there are still bigger issues to, sort of, weigh. You know, is the overall enterprise in Iraq any closer to success? And I think on that question, the jury is still out.
BLOCK: So pretty dramatic drop in these numbers that you're talking about. Does this vindicate, do you think, the administration's so-called troop surge, the addition of 30,000 more troops to Iraq?
RAZ: Well, I think it certainly confirms the views of several senior military officials who all along were calling for greater numbers of troops in Iraq. I think the question of whether the surge and the additional troop strength has had the impact that we have seen, we will have a better sense of that beginning next year when the troop numbers actually begin to drop.
BLOCK: Now, apart from adding more troops, Guy, what else has changed, if anything, in military strategy in Iraq?
RAZ: Well, there've been a few factors. I mean, one of the factors has been what you might call good fortune. You've had the Iranians, apparently, cooperating with the Iraqi government on trying to stem the flow of weapons into Iraq. And then, of course, you've had the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr essentially call for a cease-fire.
But what you've also had is the U.S. military establishing what they euphemistically called Concerned Local Citizens. Now, it sounds like a neighborhood watch group, but basically, these are groups of former insurgents that are now on the side of the U.S. military, on the side of the Iraqi military. They're being paid off. They're being given jobs. There's a 60 percent unemployment rate in Iraq. And many insurgents, of course, are forced or choose to take part in these kinds of activities for economic reasons.
It's a question that I put recently to Brigadier General Michael Nevin who's in charge of U.S. military police in Iraq. And I asked him about the Iraqi detainees in his custody.
MICHAEL NEVIN: The vast majority of them say they get involved in anti-coalition, anti-government activities for the money. The unemployment rate is tremendous here. And the underemployment rate is even a bigger problem.
RAZ: And so with that in mind, General Nevin and other military leaders are now starting to say, look, we need to think about an economic surge for Iraq as well if we want to sustain this momentum.
BLOCK: Over the long term, Guy, what is the military banking on here? Are they confident that this progress that they're seeing is sustainable?
RAZ: You know, there are enough officers in Iraq who have done multiple deployments there. They know how fragile the situation is and how quickly it will change. And so nobody I have spoken to in recent days is prepared to say, this is sustainable. This is permanent. They're certainly optimistic and hopeful, but also cautious.
I think it's also important to note that the overall strategy in Iraq remains the same. I mean, the strategy, as outlined by the White House, is to create a unified democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself, and is an ally in the war on terror. The question is, even with all of these recent changes, is the administration any closer to achieving that goal? And on that question, I certainly don't think anybody can say yes.
BLOCK: The political side of that equation, which is a whole other thing?
BLOCK: NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Guy, thanks very much.
RAZ: Thank you.
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