(CNSNews.com) – The number of embedded reporters working in Iraq in September fell to an all-time low for any month since the U.S. surge in troops in Iraq began in January 2007, according to data provided to CNSNews.com by the Multi-National Force in Iraq.
There were just 39 embedded reporters covering Iraq in September 2008 compared to 219 in September 2007, a decline of 82 percent.
See Chart on Decline of Embedded Media in Iraq.
The drop in the number of reporters appears to coincide with the success of the U.S. strategy in the country.
There were six U.S. combat casualties in September 2008 compared to 43 in September 2007, a drop of 86 percent. (Defense Department casualty and embedded reporter data have been incorporated into a database built and analyzed by CNSNews.com.)
Any journalist who remains with a unit to cover military operations for at least a few days is considered an “embed” by the MNF. Any journalist who is linked with a unit for more than one day is tracked by the military.
After rising in concert with the troop surge and the initial increase in violence following the surge in the first half of 2007, the number of embedded reporters in Iraq began to decline toward the end of the year as the U.S. military gained ground against al Qaeda and other terror groups, the analysis shows.
The influx of 30,000 additional troops into Iraq began in late January 2007 but was not fully in place until June of that year. An initial spike in combat casualties peaked in May--at a time when offensive operations were launched against al Qaeda strongholds--but was followed by a steep decline.
The number of embedded reporters began to rise in April 2007 and reached a peak of 219 in September 2007 when Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker first testified on the initial positive results of the surge strategy.
The number of embeds fell off as the U.S. military achieved significant gains on the ground against al Qaeda and U.S. casualty numbers dropped. The number of embedded reporters covering Iraq in December 2007 was almost half the number from September 2007, the MNF statistics show.
There were 14 U.S. combat-related casualties reported by the Pentagon in December 2007, the fewest of any month at that time in the past two years.
It was in August 2007 that combat-related casualties began to fall to the point where they were occurring at a lower rate, on a month-to-month basis, than they had in 2006, according to the CNSNews.com database.
The single biggest month-to-month fall off in press coverage last year occurred between September and October when the U.S. military began to experience sharper declines in combat deaths on a year-to-year basis.
Press coverage picked up again in February 2008, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s government began to move against Shi’ite extremists in Basra and in Sadr City. After absorbing some initial setbacks, the Iraqi security forces went on the offense, with only limited American help in some instances.
The Iraqis successfully swept terrorists out of neighborhoods, Fred Kagan, an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar, explained in an interview.
Even so, the fighting in Basra and in Sadr City was viewed as a setback on Capitol Hill when Petraeus and Crocker testified for the second time in April 2008.
The subject was addressed by Petraeus in testimony.
“The recent flare-up in Basra, southern Iraq, and Baghdad underscored the importance of the ceasefire declared by Moqtada al-Sadr last fall, as another factor in the overall reduction in violence,” he said. “Recently, of course, some militia elements became active again.
“Though a Sadr stand-down order resolved the situation to a degree, the flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called Special Groups, and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders. Unchecked, the Special Groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” Petraeus added.
Yet, in retrospect, the offensive operations launched against Shi’ite fighters turned out to be a major turning point that worked in favor of Maliki’s government, Kagan told CNSNews.com.
Media coverage began to fall off again in the summer months of 2008 as Basra and Sadr City were pacified. The number of embedded reporters recorded for this September was down 64 percent from where it was in April, when Petraeus and Crocker last testified.