Published Tuesday, December 30, 2003, in The National Post

Baghdad's civilian murder rate drops below that of U.S. cities:
U.S.-led forces, Iraqi police making progress, stats show

By Steven Edwards

UNITED NATIONS - The latest crime statistics for Baghdad show its murder rate is lower than that of any major U.S. city -- if anti-coalition attacks are discounted.

While daily reports of violence give the impression that chaos reigns, the U.S. Army's 1st Armour Division, which controls the Iraqi capital, says the number of "non-political" murder victims has declined dramatically over recent months.

The division's statistics also show reported cases of kidnapping and aggravated assault are down.

The findings suggest U.S.-led coalition forces and the new Iraqi police force are making more progress than is widely believed as they battle regular crime as well as terrorist activity.

Only three months ago, Baghdad was branded the murder capital of the world.

"Before the war, Iraq was a society with order, but no freedom," reported the BBC World Service. "Now it has freedom, but no order."

But according to the U.S. Army's latest counts, Baghdad had fewer reported murders per 100,000 population in October than even New York, which federal authorities this month declared the safest city in the United States.

Baghdad's murder rate was also significantly lower than that in Washington, D.C., which Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Defense Secretary, is sure to note after political opponents ridiculed him for saying as much in June.

It is not the first time the situation in Iraq is found to be better than it earlier seemed.

U.S. forces found themselves vindicated this summer after being accused of allowing massive looting of priceless artifacts from Baghdad's museum. Most turned up in secret vaults, where Iraqi officials had placed them for safe keeping.

The first person to highlight the new crime statistics in the context of U.S. murder rates was John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think-tank.

He showed that higher murder-rate figures cited by several other scholars and the media had included victims of other causes of death, such as accidents or suicide.

"A lot of the early counts were based on all bodies entering the morgues, including people killed in car accidents, and everything else that was there," he said in an interview.

The more recent figures are more precise.

Army statistics show there were 92 presumed murder victims in July in Baghdad, declining each month to only 24 in October. That translates into an annual murder rate of six per 100,000 people in the city of five million.

New York's 45 murders in October translated into an annual rate of seven per 100,000 people.

The comparable figures for major U.S. cities are 10 per 100,000 in Boston, 17 in Los Angeles, 19 in Philadelphia, 22 in Chicago and 46 in Washington, D.C.

If the new statistics turn out to be an accurate reflection of street crime, they mean "the enforcement is working," said Bernard Kerik, New York's former police chief, who helped launch the new Iraqi police force.

There remain, however, almost daily deaths of coalition soldiers as U.S.-led forces tackle remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist death squads and members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network who have infiltrated Iraq in recent months.

Such deaths are not included in the statistics. Neither are deaths of Iraqi civilians killed by terrorist acts or caught in crossfire.

Experts also caution the statistics for kidnapping and assault may be on the low side of actual occurrences because of presumed lower rates of reporting of these crimes.

In July, the statistics show there were 29 kidnapping cases, dropping to 11 in October.

There were 135 aggravated assault cases reported in July and 40 in October.

Black & White Photo: Muhammed Muheisen, The Associated Press / U.S. soldiers guard a group of Iraqis during a search for weapons in the village of Ruad, near Baghdad, yesterday. Statistics show major crime, including kidnapping, aggravated assault and "non-political" murder, is declining in the Iraqi capital.

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