In this besieged capital, it was a rare good-news story: Killings had plummeted by as much as 50% since U.S. and Iraqi forces hit the streets last month in a show of strength after the sectarian bloodbath of July.
“We’re actually seeing progress out there,” Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief military spokesman here, said when making the announcement.
Not so fast.
Last week, Iraqi officials released new figures showing the city morgue had received more than 1,500 victims of violent death in August — a significant drop of about 17% from the record of more than 1,800 killings in July, but hardly a great leap forward.
How the U.S. military arrived at the 50% figure remains a mystery. Commanders won’t release the raw data, saying such specifics could help the enemy.
Iraqi officials stopped giving out daily death counts more than a year ago, Iraqi authorities said, after government officials decided that the steady stream of casualties was too bleak.
One of the most reliable barometers of the bloodshed here has been the monthly numbers report from the Baghdad morgue, where coffins strapped to car roofs arrive hourly, and residents trying to identify loved ones look through gruesome autopsy photos.
Last week, health officials unveiled a change in morgue policy: All requests for statistics would henceforth be routed through the Health Ministry. Morgue officials who previously provided details have abruptly “retired” or left the country.