Sunday, June 25, 2006

Iraqi Civilian Death Toll Exceeds 50,000

This LA Times article is particularly notable because the Bush administration makes no real attempt to count civilian deaths; and the news media usually focuses on American deaths and rarely even mentions the human cost of this war to Iraqis:

At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies -- a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.

The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. [My emphasis.]

In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

Powerline's John Hinderaker predictably makes much of the LAT's reference to Iraqi Health Ministry records showing that 75% of civilian deaths can be attributed to insurgent and sectarian violence -- conveniently ignoring the reality that the insurgency and the militia death squads are a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion.

Hinderaker also resorts to the much-repeated argument that the murder rate in the United States is "four times higher" and that cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia have similar murder rates.

One more thing: the L. A. Times article includes the intriguing observation that the large majority of people being murdered, by terrorists or, apparently, otherwise, are in Baghdad:

At least 2,532 people were killed nationwide last month. Of those, 2,155 -- 85% -- died in Baghdad.

The current population of Iraq is around 26 million, of whom approximately 6 million live in Baghdad. A murder rate of 377 x 12 = 4,524, for the 20 million people who live anywhere other than Baghdad, works out to 22.6 per 100,000. That's around four times the murder rate in the United States, and about the same as the murder rates in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. So, if the Times' figures are anywhere near accurate, it is absurd to say--as the Times article does--that "the entire country [is] a battleground."

Of course, Hinderaker's statistics fail to mention that the United States has a population of over 295,000,000, compared to Iraq's 26,000,000-plus. Hinderaker also does not take into account the fact that the murder rates in individual American cities are not in the context of a larger society engulfed in war; that the violence in Iraq is of a kind designed to terrorize (torture, beheadings, summary executions), and that in American cities there is a law enforcement infrastructure that is completely lacking in Iraq. Although most of the violence in Iraq may be in Baghdad, that violence has a destabilizing effect on the entire country that is utterly unlike the United States [emphasis mine]:

At the Baghdad morgue, the vast majority of bodies processed had been shot execution-style. Many showed signs of torture -- drill holes, burns, missing eyes and limbs, officials said. Others had been strangled, beheaded, stabbed or beaten to death.

The morgue records show a predominantly civilian toll; the hospital records gathered by the Health Ministry do not distinguish between civilians, combatants and security forces.

But Health Ministry records do differentiate causes of death. Almost 75% of those who died violently were killed in "terrorist acts," typically bombings, the records show. The other 25% were killed in what were classified as military clashes. A health official described the victims as "innocent bystanders," many shot by Iraqi or American troops, in crossfire or accidentally at checkpoints.

With the entire country a battleground, it is likely that some of the dead may have been insurgents or members of militias.

"The way to think about the violence is that it's not just the insurgent attacks that matter," said David Lake, a member of the Center for Study of Civil War, an international group of scholars who study the causes and effects of internal strife. "What we should be concerned about is the sense of security at the individual level. ... If the fear has gotten out of control."

Societies fall apart when people stop believing the government can keep them safe [...] and instead turn to militias for protection, said Lake, who is a professor of political science at UC San Diego.

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