avatar
Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power III


My goodness! A never-ending stream of bright and shiny news from the neocolonies. U.S.-UN-OSCE-staged elections in Afghanistan. UN-EU-staged elections in Kosovo. And sooner or later, U.S.-UN-Iraqi Interim Administration-staged elections in Iraq, too. Where, despite some pesty problems with the armed resistance, the Americans have enjoyed overwhelming success at killing tens-of-thousands—all lives unworthy of life anyway—and don’t kid yourselves otherwise—while keeping any mention of their prodigious achievements in the arts of war and nation-building off the front pages. Off the lips of both presidential candidates. Off the electorate’s mind.

Incidentally. What makes a neocolony like Iraq neo- isn’t the stuff of recent headlines. For example:

* “Americans Prepare for the ‘Final Assault’
* “Fallujah Talks, and Battle Planning, Continue
* “Behind Fallujah Strategy
* “This is your last chance

Quite the contrary. These stories report only the colonial aspects of the occupation. The god-like superiority of the fundamentalist Americans, the global militants that they are. Their capacity to threaten and use violence openly. To start wars in defiance of the rest of the world. Then get the rest of the world to line up behind them. What the analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Britain meant when he explained the “logic” behind the coming assault on Fallujah to the Christian Science Monitor: “You flatten Fallujah, hold up the head of Fallujah, and say ‘Do our bidding, or you’re next’.” It is the rule of the American gun over Iraq that makes Iraq a colony in the classical sense. Nor is there anything neo- about it.

Rather, what makes Iraq a neocolony (or Neocol, to coin a phrase a lot more real-worldly and meaningful than Neocon) is the fact that, while the Americans go about bombing densely populated civilian areas with their typical impunity, and while they announce, before the fact, that they are but days or even hours away from conducting an all-out Iraqi-shoot (just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays), various organs of the United Nations, including those attached to its chief propaganda organ, have enlisted in the cause to help the Americans pull it off.

(Quick aside. For more on the neocolonial front, notice that throughout the entire American war, Human Rights Watch has steadfastly refused to take issue with the war’s fundamental criminality, preferring instead to split hairs about its tactics. Also, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy-types at Harvard University have argued that in the Middle East, “America is not the hegemon but the hesitant shaper of forces it barely understands,” while they’ve discussed naval-gazing questions like “Darfur: How to respond to genocide?” And the crap that Christopher Hitchens now writes gets posted to the website of the Project For A New American Century—the American-led bloodbath in Iraq “one of the noblest responsibilities we have ever shouldered,” in his very words, adopting the first-person plural throughout.)

At least until today, that is. Because at least for one day (two days, if the world is really lucky), the news media back in the states most responsible for the criminal carnage in Iraq have finally noticed that the Americans have been killing Iraqis like flies—that is to say, in huge numbers—and there is no denying it.

According to the report just posted to The Lancet‘s website, “Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey” (Les Roberts et al.—also note that ZNet has posted a link to a copy), “[T]the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100,000 people, and may be much higher” (p. 5). Moreover, the report points out that the “violence [is] geographically widespread,” with the “violence-specific mortality rate [rising] 58-fold” during the war and occupation” (p. 5). Surely these outcomes merit inclusion within Christopher Hitchens’ sense of the “noblest responsibilities we have ever shouldered.” At least some of us. Anyway.

Prior to the American war (i.e., Jan. 1, 2002, through March 18, 2003), the main reported causes of death were “myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents, and consequences of other chronic disorders….” Since the start of the war, however, “violence [has been] the most commonly reported cause of death” (p. 5).

(Very important. Manifestly not to be overlooked here is the years of research into, and documentation of, the scale of death and destruction caused within Iraq by the various economic sanctions regimes dating all the way back to UN Security Council Res. 661 of August 6, 1990—the infamous “sanctions of mass destruction” that contributed to the deaths of untold hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqis over the past 14 years, young children especially.—See Joy Gordon, “Cool War: Economic sanctions as a weapon of mass destruction,” Harper’s, November, 2002.)

Of particular concern ought to be what the researchers call the Fallujah “cluster,” the Iraqi city of Fallujah being an “extreme statistical outlier,” in their words, because of the extreme levels of violence the Americans have rained down upon the city’s inhabitants, and the relatively large and concentrated size of the population living there under constant American attack (pp. 4-5). With Fallujah and nearby population centers now at the very top of the Americans’ target-list, the coming bloodbath could be enormous.

Importantly, the researchers contend that “Despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground.” On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the Americans’ killing has been “caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry” (p. 7)—all confrontations of a kind chosen by the Americans. No mistakes here. Nor anything “off target,” as the deliberate evasions at Human Rights Watch would have us believe.

The researchers conclude:

US General Tommy Franks is widely quoted as saying “we don’t do body counts.” The Geneva Conventions have clear guidance about the responsibilities of occupying armies to the civilian population they control. The fact that more than half the deaths reportedly caused by the occupying forces were women and children is cause for concern. In particular, Convention IV, Article 27 states that protected persons “…shall be at all times humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against acts of violence….” It seems difficult to understand how a military force could monitor the extent to which civilians are protected against violence without systematically doing body counts or at least looking at the kinds of casualties they induce. This survey shows that with modest funds, 4 weeks, and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure of civilian deaths could be obtained. There seems to be little excuse for occupying forces to not be able to provide more precise tallies. (p. 7)

Presuming, of course, that more precise tallies really are what the occupying forces want.—Anyone care to take the bet?

Asked earlier today about The Lancet‘s report, the inestimable British Foreign Secretary promised to study its findings “in a very serious way,” though he worried that that the researchers’ estimate was “based on very different methodology from standard methodology for assessing causalities, namely on the number of people reported to have been killed at the time or around the time they were killed.”

A statement issued on behalf of the British Prime Minister cautioned that its methodology might not be up to snuff—“Extrapolation is not a technique we would believe is appropriate,” the statement warned.

Faced with the same news down under, the Australian Defense Minister countered:

I think you might recall that just from an Australian perspective the extraordinary efforts that were taken by our air force when they were engaged in Iraq to avoid those civilian casualties. But you will never have a conflict in which there won’t be some [civilian deaths]. The removal of Saddam Hussein, somebody who is attributed to have killed at least 300,000 innocent Iraqis, is something that will be of great benefit to future generations of the Iraqi people.

I wish I could tell you how the American Government has responded to The Lancet‘s report. And not only how the people around the current regime in the White House responded to it. But also the Democratic group competing for the White House. Members of the American Congress. And even the State of Illinois’ latest Favorite Son (and next U.S. Senator): Barack Obama.

But I can’t get my hands on anything along these lines at the moment.

Perhaps a little later?

Somehow, I doubt that the release of this important report by The Lancet, at this quite critical juncture of American and therefore world history, is going to make so much as the tiniest of dents.

The Americans being incorrigible. And the rest of the world already knowing just about everything that it needs to know about the nature of the enemy facing it.

Postscript. The editorial that accompanies the release of the report on the Iraqi killing fields—Richard Horton’s “The war in Iraq: civilian casualties, political responsibilities“—is appallingly stupid. And worse. I include it here simply for the sake of completeness. Likewise with the material authored by the Carr Center-types and—last but not least—Christopher Hitchens. I handle stuff like this only with a thick pair of gloves. And a clothes-pin over my nose.

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004.
The war in Iraq: civilian casualties, political responsibilities” (Editorial), Richard Horton, The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004
Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Press Release, Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies (accessed Oct. 29, 2004)

Survey: Iraqi deaths higher; Hopkins-designed study says 100,000 civilians died; Prior estimates, 10,000 to 30,000; Brookings defense expert calls data ‘preposterous’,” Jonathan Bor and Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun, October 29, 2004
100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, says study,” Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, October 29, 2004
War blamed for 100,000 increase in civilian death toll,” Billy Briggs, The Herald (Glasgow), October 29, 2004
Revealed: War Has Cost 100,000 Iraqi Lives,” Jeremy Laurance and Colin Brown, The Independent, October 29, 2004
Study Puts Iraqi Deaths Of Civilians At 100,000,” Elizabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, October 29, 2004
Researchers claims that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in war,” Sam Lister and Michael Evans, The Times (London), October 29, 2004
100,000 Civilian Deaths Estimated in Iraq,” Rob Stein, Washington Post, October 29, 2004

Human Rights Watch Policy on Iraq, March, 2003(?)
Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, Bonnie Docherty and Marc E. Garlasco et al., Human Rights Watch, December, 2003
Genocide and America,” Samantha Power, New York Review of Books, March 14, 2002
Mirage in the Desert,” Michael Ignatieff, New York Times Magazine, June 27, 2004
What’s Going Right in Iraq,” Christopher Hitchens et al., Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2004

Iraq Coalition Casualties
Iraq Body Count Project
Iraq Occupation Watch

Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power I, ZNet Blogs, August 15, 2004
How Many Deaths Are Too Many? ZNet Blogs, September 13, 2004
Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power II, ZNet Blogs, October 28, 2004

Leave a comment