Salon observes:

Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts have written a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs urging full funding for a new cemetery at Fort Riley in Kansas.

The reason: With an influx of casualties from Iraq, the existing cemetery at Fort Riley is now full. Well, not entirely full: A spokesman for the facility tells Reuters that bodies can be buried on top of other bodies if family members want to share plots.

Thank heavens we have such stalwart men looking out for our troops. It would be horrific to force families to have to share their grieving space with other people.

Rather than building more cemeteries, there is another option available to a Senator ? working to make sure that fewer soldier die in Iraq. Alas, Roberts and Brownback have steadfastly opposed any Congressional move that would hasten our exit from Iraq, just as they opposed any moves that might have kept us out in the first place. Luckily, Brownback seems likely to stick to his promise not to run for re-election, and it looks like former Congressman Jim Slattery will be running against Pat Roberts.

While we’re on the topic, here’s the mighty surge at work. (Note that, because I fixed a small bug in the code which generates this graph, the linear regression line is higher than it has been in past graphs. Older graphs plotted it too low because I was converting the average numbers to an integer, which threw away the decimal portion of the average, systematically lowering the number. This graph is correct, and the others underestimated the intercept of the linear trend, though the slope would have been basically unaffected. I never could understand why the linear regression was always so much lower than the loess regression.)


The pink area of the graph represents a bootstrapped loess regression, 500 of the red lines generated with only half (or 95%) of the data points. It represents an estimate of the underlying variability of the data and the plausible range of the actual trend. To my eye, it shows an upward curve since February, an accelerating rate of fatalities, rather than a flattening.

Since the escalation in Iraq (the “surge”), half the months have seen more fatalities than the linear regression would predict, half have been below the trendlines, exactly as would be expected if no change had happened. While I certainly hope that there is a signal in those last three points, there is no statistical basis for that conclusion, especially given the apparently accelerating trend in the locally-weighted regressions.


  1. #1 Alex
    September 21, 2007

    But the post-surge ones that have been above the trendline have been much further above it than the ones below it are below it..

  2. #2 John Gardner
    September 21, 2007

    When the surge was started, nobody said there would be less American casualties. In fact, if you read what they have said repeatedly that military casualties probably won’t go down because of the surge. If you read through the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (Amazon link), it basically states that you are sacrificing security of the troops in order to provide for the security of the civilian population. For good analysis of the COIN strategy in action, I’d suggest reading up on articles from independent reporter Michael Yon. I’ll leave finding his site as an excercise for the reader.

    Also, are you normalizing this to account for the number of troops in country? If you increase the number of active soldiers somewhere, doesn’t that also increase the number of possible combat incidents?

    Is this combat fatalities only? When you have a few hundred thousand people in a population, people die in car/other accidents every day no matter where they are stationed!

    I’d like to see a version of your graph where you also plot suicide bombings, mortar attacks, and other insurgency activities on the top of this graph. Is that trending up or trending down?

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    September 21, 2007

    These are total fatalities as listed by, who get their data from DoD records. I’d also suspect that soldiers in Iraq engage in various high risk activities which increase chances of car accidents, etc., making it inappropriate to exclude those data.

    Normalizing for the number of troops in-country would be interesting, but would answer a slightly different question than I’m interested in. Normalizing would tell us the chances of a given soldier being killed, while my graph above tells us something closer to the chances of a fatality occurring Ė the risk to the Armed Forces in general. More fatalities == bad, IMHO. If there were some countervailing good, then it might be the price we pay, but the political reforms we were supposed to be clearing the way for have not materialized.

    I’d also like to be able to graph particular insurgent activities over the same time frame. I don’t doubt that their tactics have shifted several times over the course of the occupation, and it would be interesting to see how they’ve changed. I’d also like to be able to plot civilian fatalities. The monthly data that I’ve been able to find on those topics tends to have sufficiently large errors and potential biases that I just don’t think it would be fair to treat them the way I treat military fatalities, which I suspect are reported very accurately. If you have suggestions on reliable sources of monthly (or quarterly, I guess) data on those issues, I’m happy to do the same analysis for them.

    Yes, the President warned that “Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue – and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.” It isn’t clear whether he meant that US fatalities would increase, or merely that they would not stop instantly. If he meant the former, it certainly wasn’t stated unambiguously, and not in the terms you put it. Indeed, he suggested that by clearing and holding neighborhoods, risks to civilians and soldiers would be reduced, and he suggested that Iraqi troops would be handling the bulk of the work (and therefore the risk). Things seem to have worked out otherwise.

  4. #4 Jorge Gajardo Rojas
    September 25, 2007

    When the casualties reach some point are also a growing oposition.The inflection is given when the people opposite achieve to stop war.In Irak issue I think the number are 5.000 casualties.

  5. #5 tioedong
    September 25, 2007

    Ummm…it’s not Bush’s fault….the cemetaries are filling because the “greatest Generation” of World War II veterans are dying off…and many are eligible to be buried in National cemetaries.

    These cemetaries are not just for active soldiers killed in the line of duty but also for veterans….