Back in September I argued at great length that General Petraus was misleading congress presenting numbers calculated according to secret formulas which showed a decrease in civilian deaths in Iraq and civilian deaths due to sectarian conflict in Iraq.
Soon thereafter, there was an undeniable decline in civilian deaths in Iraq as measured not only by the US military in Iraq but also independent observers.*
However, I am still convinced that Petraeus' testimony was misleading. A general objection is that Petraeus included deaths reported by Iraqi sources which showed a huge peak before the surge. The decision to include them was clearly made late so figures on the same month changed and one month had, for a while, more reported deaths than reported casualties. US military sources in Iraq agree that the Iraqi data was processed with a lag, that is, data for July and August 2007 were not comparable to data from January 2007.
My personal objection is that the appalling massacre of Yazidis on August 14 2007 did not seem to appear in the data. Washington Post fact checker was provided with an alternative explanation, that the initial death count of 572 was overstated. As noted by Atrios, it was understated. The current estimate is 796 according to Reuters.
I don't see a legitimate reason why the death count should be adjusted down and then up.
*One possible explanation is something else which happened on the day Petraeus testified
American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. The raid’s target was an insurgent cell believed to be responsible for smuggling the vast majority of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The records also underscore how the insurgency in Iraq remains both overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni. American officials now estimate that the flow of foreign fighters was 80 to 110 per month during the first half of this year and about 60 per month during the summer. The numbers fell sharply in October to no more than 40, partly as a result of the Sinjar raid, the American officials say.
After the raid on the Sinjar cell, the number of suicide bombings in Iraq fell to 16 in October — half the number seen during the summer months
The raid happened in the predawn hours of Sept. 11,
Petraeus testified on September 11 and could not be reporting results of the raid.
update: More on the raid in Today's Post