Cheaper Lives and Insane Ambitions

  March 28, 2022   Read time 4 min
Cheaper Lives and Insane Ambitions
Assessing the casualties among Iraqis, however, was far harder. In December 2005, President Bush admitted that several tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians might have paid with their lives: ‘How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war?

I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.’ He appeared to be basing his estimate on the work of a British group of academics calling themselves the Iraq Body Count who regularly updated the total number of Iraqi deaths reported by ‘reliable’ sources, mainly the Western media. By summer 2007, the Iraq Body Count’s figure had reached about 70,000 Iraqi dead. However, there were strong reasons for believing that these statistics were in fact a gross under-estimation.

With most foreign correspondents consigned to a sealed-off area of Baghdad known as the Green Zone – under heavy protection from US troops – there was little coverage of Iraqi deaths apart from those killed in newsworthy events such as suicide bombings, often reported by Iraqi stringers working on behalf of the foreign media. Drive-by shootings, atrocities happening in remoter parts of Iraq, and the deaths that resulted from the rapid deterioration in sanitation, access to water and electricity, and the closure of hospitals, were not normally reported by the Western media. Even in the case of large-scale bombings, there were grounds for suspecting that the reported casualty fi gures under-estimated the fatalities. As one internet pundit pointed out:

In the news today, [it was reported that] a car bomb in Baghdad killed 23 people and injured 68 others, while later, a second killed 17 people and wounded 55 others. Will you ever hear what happened to those 123 injured people (or the others who were injured in incidents where the numbers of dead didn’t reach double-digits, and weren’t even ‘newsworthy’ by the standards of American reporting on Iraq)? Not a chance. Will some, maybe even the majority, die later today in the hospital, or tomorrow, or next week? Quite likely. But according to the Western press (and those such as Iraq Body Count), 40 people died in those two incidents, a number which will never change.

A more plausible, though less quoted, fi gure had been produced by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and published in the eminent British medical journal The Lancet in October 2006. Using the standard methodology for estimating deaths in conflict zones, its survey of Iraqi households showed that the most likely number of extra deaths among Iraqi civilians as a result of the US occupation stood at 655,000. This figure was widely rubbished by British and US government offi cials, though it later emerged that the British Defence Ministry’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, had privately supported the methods used by the survey and the reliability of the fi ndings. If the Lancet fi gures were right, nearly 200,000 Iraqis had been killed each year since the US invasion.

In addition, other sources reported that some two million Iraqis out of a population of some 27 million had fled Iraq and a similar number had been displaced to other parts of the country in what was becoming a slow process of ethnic cleansing. A report compiled by 80 aid agencies in summer 2007 showed that eight million Iraqis – or nearly a third of the population – were in need of emergency aid, 70 per cent had inadequate access to water, 80 per cent were without effective sanitation, more than 800,000 children had dropped out of school and there was rampant malnutrition among the young. In every sense, the White House’s decision to topple the Iraqi dictator had created a humanitarian catastrophe for the country’s people, producing suffering on a greater scale than had been experienced even under Saddam himself.

The dramatic increase in the deaths of ordinary Iraqis could be easily explained. They found themselves caught in the crossfi re of a vicious insurgency to oust the US occupying forces and a relentless campaign of violence unleashed by American soldiers (and a large force of unaccountable mercenaries) to subdue all resistance. US troops and Iraqis who collaborated with them, particularly those joining the new security forces, were the main targets of the insurgency.

One of its leaders told a British newspaper: ‘Our position is that there are two kinds of people in Iraq: not Sunni and Shia, Kurdish and Arab, Muslim and Christian, but those who are with the occupation and those who are against it.’ In an attempt to crush the resistance and reduce the number of US casualties, the army admitted that it was resorting to hi-tech fi repower, particularly airpower, that was taking a large toll on the civilian population. Eldon Bargewell, a general who investigated a massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians committed by US soldiers at Haditha, assessed the army’s philosophy in Iraq in the following terms: ‘Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as US lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, ... the Marines need to get “the job done” no matter what it takes.’

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