9 US Troops Killed; 250,000 Civilians Dead in Bush’s War?

Sunni Arab guerrillas have killed 9 US soldiers in the past two days. They killed 6 and wounded 4 with a bomb in a booby-trapped safe house on Wednesday. The deaths come in the course of an American sweep in Diyala Province aimed at weakening the Salafi radicals.

A new World Health Organization study estimates the excess numbers of civilians killed in violence in Iraq from April 2003 through June 2006 at between 101,000 and 224,000. They settled on 151,000 or so as the most likely number. This number is an estimate of how many people died of violence beyond what you would have expected from the 2001-2002 baseline. Violent deaths increased 17 times over once the Bush administration invaded the country. As I read the AP article, the study actually found more like 302,000 excess deaths, but only attributed 151,000 to violence. It seems to me possible that some of the other 151,000 excess deaths could also be chalked up to the US invasion and the reaction to it, even if they are not violent. There have been disease outbreaks, shortages of medicine, poor medical care, displacement of populations to tent cities with poor sanitation, and difficulties in traveling to distant hospitals. Bears looking into.

The Lancet study found 600,000 excess deaths from violence. I’m not qualified to make a methodological judgment as to the virtues of the two studies. I don’t think the validity of the Lancet estimate should just be dismissed by journalists or bloggers, for the same reason. If someone is a specialist in the public health field and a whiz at statistics, then I’d be interested in a judgment from that person. But I would point out that the last time Bush admitted his war had killed civilians, he quoted the figure of 30,000, and we can definitely dismiss such tiny numbers as woefully inaccurate. Bush has to face up to what he has done.

Passive gathering of death statistics from newspapers, which always misses a lot of unreported deaths, such as at the Iraq Body Count site, came up with 47,668 civilian deaths in the same period. IBC is now up to about 84,000 civilian deaths. If the 3 to 1 discrepancy between reported and unreported deaths visible in the WHO study held steady, that would take us to a further 100,000 or so deaths in the past 18 months, and to roughly 250,000 excess deaths through violence since the war began.

There is also the question of how many Iraqis have sustained significant or crippling injuries from the same violence that has left so many dead. For US troops, the ratio is nearly 4,000 killed to nearly 10,000 severely wounded, or 2.5 times. If the same rate held true for Iraqi civilians in the war, and if it is true that 250,000 have by now been killed, it would equal 625,000 severely wounded.

One of the arguments warmongers gave for overthrowing Saddam Hussein was that his regime was responsible for the violent deaths of some 300,000 civilians between 1968 and 2003. That estimate now appears exaggerated, since the number of bodies in mass graves has not borne it out. But what is tragic is that in 4 1/2 short years, a foreign military occupation has unleashed killing on a scale achieved by the murderous Saddam Hussein regime only over decades. Bush did not kill all those people directly, of course, but he did indirectly cause them to be killed, since these are excess deaths beyond what you would have expected if there had been no invasion and occupation.

I am often struck by how clueless the American public is to the vast destruction we have wrought on Iraq and its people, directly or indirectly. It strikes me as a bitter joke that 4 million are displaced, often facing hunger and disease, and the rightwing periodicals and presidential candidates are talking about how the “surge” has “turned things around.” For whom? How many orphans have we created? How many widows? How many people who weep and cry every night while trying to fall asleep on straw mats? I estimate on the basis of a UN study of refugees in Syria that as many as 600,000 or 700,000 Baghdadis were ethnically cleansed from the capital under the nose of the American troops implementing the surge. There is an old Chinese proverb, “Children throw stones at frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest.”

See our Global Affairs blog for more on this issue, and for recent postings on Iran and Pakistan.

Bush has gutted American civil liberties, and turned us into a hateful nation of spies, torturers, bigots, and colonialists occupying someone else’s country. (See Tomdispatch.com for an impassioned argument on how this was accomplished. And he has managed to unleash a maelstrom of violence in the Middle East that has wiped out the population of a medium-sized city. Surveying civilian deaths in Iraq is like walking through Lincoln, Nebraska, after it was hit by a neutron bomb, with everyone dead. Everyone.