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In a news conference on April 29, 2009, President Barack Obama was asked if recent violence in Iraq would affect his strategy or timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Earlier in day, three car bombs killed at least 51 people in markets in Baghdad.
Obama responded by saying the recent violence should be seen in context.
"Well, first of all, I think it's important to note that although you've seen some spectacular bombings in Iraq that are a legitimate cause of concern, civilian deaths, incidents of bombings, et cetera, remain very low relative to what was going on last year, for example," Obama said. "And so you haven't seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq."
We checked with the Defense Department and other sources to see if Obama was correct about declining rates of civilian deaths and bombings. The short answer is that he is.
The number of civilian deaths and bombings in Iraq peaked during 2007, and has steadily decreased since a surge of forces was approved by President George W. Bush.
Obama specifically said civilian deaths and bombings have decreased "relative to what was going on last year." So we compared recent numbers with early 2008.
According to a report from the Defense Department based on information from coalition forces and the Iraqi government, civilian deaths in Iraq ranged from 600 in January 2008 up to 950 in April. The number of civilian deaths in early 2009 have been markedly lower: 270 in January, 230 in February and 260 in March.
That's dramatically lower than late 2006 and early 2007, when civilian deaths were about 3,500 a month.
As for bombings, those too hit a peak in early 2007, with about 130 in February of that year. By early 2008, they were down to 40 to 60 explosions per month.
The recent report to Congress noted that current levels of bombings were lower than at any time since the spring of 2004, but added that al-Qaida "retains the intent and capability to carry out spectacular attacks."
Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told PolitiFact that in addition to fewer bombings, there has been a shift in targets. At the height of violence in years past, he said, most bombings were aimed at U.S. military and Iraq military and security forces. Recent attacks have targeted mosques, markets and other "soft targets" in an attempt to incite sectarian violence. That suggests opposition resources are more limited than in the past, Ryder said.
The nonpartisan Brookings Institution also puts out something called the Iraq Index that keeps monthly tabs on security and reconstruction in Iraq. The detailed reports track the number of multiple-fatality bombings (more than a third of them from suicide bombings), as well as the number of people killed and wounded in those bombings. Both also back up Obama's contention. We note that Brookings bases much of its data on information from the U.S. government, but also gets information from press reports and other sources.
So information from coalition forces in Iraq, the Iraqi government and press reports all back up Obama's statement. We rule it True.
Defense Department, Report to Congress: Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq , March 2009
Brookings Institution, Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-Sadddam Iraq , by Michael O'Hanlon and Jason H. Campbell, April 24, 2009
Interview with Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, April 30, 2009
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