John F. Burns and Iraqi KPIs
Today John F. Burns of the New York Times writes another of his calmly horrifying stories about Iraq. As usual, he calls a spade a spade and says that the long-feared Iraqi Civil War has already begun:
From the moment American troops crossed the border 28 months ago, the specter hanging over the American enterprise here has been that Iraq, freed from Mr. Hussein's tyranny, might prove to be so fractured - by politics and religion, by culture and geography, and by the suspicion and enmity sown by Mr. Hussein's years of repression - that it would spiral inexorably into civil war.
If it did, opponents of the American-led invasion had warned, American troops could get caught in the crossfire between Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen, secularists and believers - reduced, in the grimmest circumstances, to the common target of a host of contending militias.
But the real gem in Burns' story is the mangling of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. I often discuss and manage stuff like this in my day job-- helping companies and government agencies visually consume data that is most important to the health of their endeavors.
One measure of the doubts afflicting American officials here has been a hedging in the upbeat military assessments that generals usually offer, coupled with a resort to statistics carefully groomed to show progress in curbing the insurgents that seems divorced from realities on the ground. One example of the new "metrics" has been a rush of figures on the buildup of Iraq's army and police force - a program known to many reporters who have been embedded on joint operations as one beset by inadequate training, poor leadership, inadequate weaponry and poor morale.
Officers involved in running the program offer impressive-sounding figures - including the fact that, by mid-June, the Iraqi forces had been given 306 million rounds of ammunition, roughly 12 bullets for each of Iraq's 25 million people. But when one senior American officer involved was asked whether the Americans might end up arming the Iraqis for a civil war, he paused for a moment, then nodded. "Maybe," he said.
If the KPI is "how mant bullets were given to Iraqis", we're really succeeding.