Death in Iraq: Don’t ask, don’t tell
We don’t do body counts? Hell, we don’t even run stories about them.
On Tuesday, Iraq Body Count released a major new estimate of civilian casualties since the unjustified invasion two years ago. Nearly 25,000 civilians have been reported killed in the first two years, according to the U.K. group run by John Sloboda and Harmit Dardagan.
Two days later, a casual tally of Google hits shows that “Natalee Holloway” still leads “Iraq Body Count” 386 to 274.
Nothing’s changed in the U.S. mainstream media since September 2004, when U.S. casualties in Iraq hit 1,000, prompting James Dao of the New York Times to puff his pipe and ask: “How many deaths are too many?”
As I pointed out back then (along with David Peterson on ZNet and many others), there was not one word in Dao’s story about the deaths of Iraqis.
Even if you assume the worst—that American editors and readers just don’t give a shit about dead Iraqis—there are still reasons to be interested in the new Iraq Body Count stats.
As an indicator of how things are going, the stats show that things are worse since the occupation began and getting worse all the time.
Here are just a few observations culled from the detailed report:
• 70 percent of the 24,865 civilians have been killed after George W. Bush proclaimed, “Mission accomplished” on May 1, 2003. At least 42,500 civilians have been reported wounded, 59 percent of them after May 1, 2003.
• In all, 5,000 women and children have been killed.
• During the occupation period—since “mission accomplished”—the number of civilians killed in year two (11,351) is almost twice the number of those killed in year one (6,215).
• Iraq is not headed toward anarchy; it’s already there. U.S.-led forces killed 37 percent of the civilians, and criminal violence since the occupation began accounted for 36 percent. Anti-occupation forces and insurgents killed 9 percent.
• Tragedies such as the Musayyib explosion get the ink, but 34 percent of the civilian deaths have been caused by air strikes—our bombing. (I extrapolated that from these IBC figures: 53 percent of the deaths involved explosive devices, and air strikes caused 64 percent of those.)
• Baghdead is Poisonville—almost half of all civilian deaths have occurred there. Fallujah is No. 2.
Sloboda, a British professor and peace activist, said at the launch of the report in London on July 19:
On average, 34 ordinary Iraqis have met violent deaths every day since the invasion of March 2003.
Our data show that no sector of Iraqi society has escaped. We sincerely hope that this research will help to inform decision-makers around the world about the real needs of the Iraqi people as they struggle to rebuild their country. It remains a matter of the gravest concern that, nearly two and half years on, neither the US nor the UK governments have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed.
Just a couple of days before the new IBC report, Judith Coburn smartly dissected the facts, figures, coverage and non-coverage of Iraqi civilian deaths. In “Unnamed and Unnoticed,” on Tom Englehardt‘s fine TomDispatch.com, Coburn noted:
The lack of “official” figures … shouldn’t absolve the media—or Americans—from their blindness to Iraqi suffering, since available figures, incomplete as they are, are staggering for a guerrilla war. Reliable sources have certainly done their best to count, sources like IBC, Brookings, and the Iraqi and American epidemiologists who estimated in a study published in the British medical journal the Lancet that 100,000 Iraqis might have died in the war by September, 2004.
These sources are admittedly critical of the war. But as such, are they less “objective” than the Pentagon? The American media apparently thinks so. Yet Iraq Body Count’s figures are clearly conservative exactly because they depend on media reports. Because it is now so dangerous for journalists to travel outside Baghdad or even the capital’s “Green Zone” where Westerners huddle, many Iraqi deaths go unreported and are thus uncounted by IBC.
It’s hard to figure out just why the U.S. press underplays the story of Iraqi civilian deaths. I don’t think it’s the reporters. Alan Cowell, for example, wrote the July 19 New York Times story that mentioned the IBC study in its fourth paragraph. It deserved a separate, in my opinion. I doubt that Cowell’s editors would agree. But you would think Cowell would. Stationed in South Africa during the last throes of apartheid, he later produced the text for a book called Why Are They Weeping? South Africans Under Apartheid.
Well, if the IBC study was buried in his fourth paragraph, at least Cowell gave voice to two establishment (what else) critics of Dubya Dubya III:
The Iraq war has been unpopular with many Britons. Even before a bullet was fired, more than one million people marched through London in protest in early 2003. And since then, the decision to side with the White House has haunted Mr. Blair.
“The chaos in Iraq today is a direct consequence of the decision to invade it, and the unforgivable failure to plan how to provide security for the country we had taken over,” Robin Cook, a former government minister who resigned in protest of the war, wrote in a newspaper column today.
Referring to the Iraq campaign, Martin Samuel, a columnist, wrote in the Times of London: “It is pertinent to question whether opening up this unnecessary second front in the War on Terror will not one day be recalled as the gravest tactical error of our lifetime.”