Thursday, May 3, 2007

Latest Brookings Iraq Index - Key Factors for Gauging the Success of the Surge

Here's the link that will always get you to the latest edition of the highly useful Brookings Institution Iraq Index that is one of the best places that I know of for learning about the trends on the ground in Iraq.

In the April 30th, 2007 edition, there is a useful essay on "Tracking the Surge" on page 4.

Unfortunately, the charts and tables that follow for the most part do not match up with the key factors noted in the essay, nor do they make it easy to for interested citizens to see the trends at work for themselves.

Here are some of the key factors that I gleaned (scraped) from the text.
  1. number of US brigades in place
  2. number of "joint security stations" established
  3. extra-judicial killings
  4. level of civil warfare
  5. willingness of Shia militias to lie low
  6. willingness of Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar to collaborate in opposing al Qaeda
  7. level of violence in al-Anbar
  8. daily attacks in and around Ramadi
  9. resilience level of al Qaeda and related terrorist elements
  10. rate of use of vehicle bombs
  11. rate of use of vest bombs
  12. percentage of casualties that are Shia
  13. progress on the hydrocarbon law through the Iraqi parliament
  14. progress towards reforming de-Bathification to allow return of lower level Baathist to public life
  15. state of the Iraqi economy
  16. Oil revenue received
  17. Foreign aid received
  18. Money available in federal coffers
  19. Performance level of public utilities (presumable electricity, water, sewerage, sanitation, petrol supplies, public transportation)
  20. How well schools are functioning
  21. The overall state of the health system infrastructure
  22. Level of unemployment
That's an awful lot of important metrics for one page of text and Michael O'Hanlon and the Brookings Institution deserve praise for consistently working to get their arms around the vast multi-dimensional range of factors at work.

And, reviewing the whole report, there are literally dozens of other important factors that show up in charts or tables.

Wishlist 1: It would be really valuable if one could turn the page of the Iraq Index report and see the chart or charts for each of the these items one by one, in the same sequence as they appeared in the essay and with the same terminology, so as to get a sense for the degree of progress that is being made, to see which things are lagging, to see what is getting worse and by how much, and so on.

This, in my mind would provide a giant step upward in the usability and the understandability of the important work that provides the basis for these weekly reports.

Comment: Many of the tables and charts in the weekly report are out of date. They represent important factors but no new data has been available to update them for quite some time.

Wishlist 2. It would be helpful if outdated tables and charts were either placed in an appendix, or if the chart could be updated to show the current end date and the missing data. Otherwise it is easy to misread the right hand side of the charts to think that the data and the trends represent the past few weeks or months instead of sometime in June 2006, or May 2005.

Comment: The chart formating for just about every chart is different and each chart seems to have its own unique starting and ending time intervals.

Wishlist 3. A move to more consistent chart formats and time intervals would greatly enhance the readability and usability of these reports.

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