Project Censored’s top censored story of 2009 was the death toll in Iraq, said to be close to 1.2 million dead in the wake of the 2003 invasion. It was a poll done by Opinion Research Business, a British polling group whose results are generally thought to be reliable when they do not contradict official truth. The true number of dead in Iraq will never be known, just as we now only speculate about the casualties of the Vietnam War. It’s considered bad taste – we do not investigate our own crimes. Only those of others.
I’ve been round and round with that at a number of sites over the years, and am familiar with the mindset/reaction that follows. The only research-based studies put forward are by groups like Lancet and ORB, and there are no counter-studies. Instead, there is hostile denial, and accusations that I wear a shiny hat. So all of the research is on one side, and only denial on the other. It is a classic emperor’s new clothes environment.
I’ve long accepted that the death toll is much, much higher than anyone acknowledges. (And note the ease with which hand-over-heart patriots accept lower tolls like only 65,000 or 100,000 – as if that was acceptable!).
But the mechanics are troubling – American bombs are not nearly as accurate as the Pentagon says, and targeting is not only at “combatants,” as in counterinsurgency, the domestic population is the enemy. So death from the sky accounts for quite a bit of carnage. But even Lancet said that such deaths were a minority of the casualties.Others merely presume to know that crazy Iraqis are killing each other (we are neither crazy nor killers, you see), but Lancet attributed 56% of the casualties to American violence. How is it happening?
The house-to-house aspect of the war is hardly mentioned here in the land of the free, but My Lai-style face-to-face killing is the essence of counterinsurgency. Rebels have to be rooted out of their communities, exposed, imprisoned and made examples, tortured and killed. It is a truly remarkable feat of propaganda that we know so little of the violence that we have inflicted on that country. From 1991 forward, from the initial bombing and destruction of civilian infrastructure to the sanctions and bombings of the 1990s’ to the 2003 invasion, the toll is staggering. Iraq ranks somewhere between Rwanda and Pol Pot in casualties, and who knows – we may top old Pol before we are done. The country is not yet pacified.
[ORB] points out that the logic to this carnage lies in a statistic released by the US military and reported by the Brookings Institute: for the first four years of the occupation the American military sent over 1,000 patrols each day into hostile neighborhoods, looking to capture or kill “insurgents” and “terrorists.” (Since February 2007, the number has increased to nearly 5,000 patrols a day, if we include the Iraqi troops participating in the American surge.) Each patrol invades an average of thirty Iraqi homes a day, with the mission to interrogate, arrest, or kill suspects. In this context, any fighting age man is not just a suspect, but a potentially lethal adversary. Our soldiers are told not to take any chances.
According to US military statistics, again reported by the Brookings Institute, these patrols currently result in just under 3,000 firefights every month, or just under an average of one hundred per day (not counting the additional twenty-five or so involving our Iraqi allies). Thousands of patrols result in thousands of innocent Iraqi deaths and unconscionably brutal detentions.
And then there is the exodus:
Iraqis’ attempts to escape the violence have resulted in a refugee crisis of mammoth proportion. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, in 2007 almost 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which had fled since 2003. Over 2.4 million vacated their homes for safer areas within Iraq, up to 1.5 million were living in Syria, and over 1 million refugees were inhabiting Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Gulf States. Iraq’s refugees, increasing by an average of almost 100,000 every month, have no legal work options in most host states and provinces and are increasingly desperate.
Yet more Iraqis continue to flee their homes than the numbers returning, despite official claims to the contrary. Thousands fleeing say security is as bad as ever, and that to return would be to accept death. Most of those who return are subsequently displaced again.
The underlying tragedy is that those who flee are those who can afford to flee. Iraq’s educated classes are leaving, the professionals, the doctors, civil engineers and other professionals who had turned Iraq into a burgeoning and wealthy country by 1989. If the object of the U.S. attack, 1990 forward, was to return the country to the stone age, then indeed George W. Bush was right: Mission Accomplished.