Deliberate Undercounting of "Coalition" Fatalities

There is evidence of a concerted effort afoot to obfuscate the number of casualties in the recent crop of US-led wars. May 1st was the day the president Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and declared the end to the war and the start of the occupation of Iraq [1]. Since then many casualty numbers have been publicized, most of them disingenuous fudges of the real death toll. There are many reasons why the casualty toll is understated, and these are dissected here.

The Bush regime is doing its best to hide the human cost of its recent wars. Publicity of the soldiers’ deaths is bad during an election year, and would be bad for the continued justification for the American occupation of Iraq. If they are intent on hiding the casualty figures, then it behooves us to uncover and amplify them.

Are We a “Coalition”?

The US propagandists and the media refer to the term “coalition” when it suits them. When it is important to show that the US didn’t act alone without UN authorization, then the virtues of the “coalition” are extolled. When the purpose is to reduce the numbers of casualties reported and to hide the death toll, then it is convenient to count the US casualties exclusively. The fact that British, Danish, Spanish, Polish, and Iraqis working for US aren’t added to the casualty tally used by the media is less than honest.

If one found that the US media focused exclusively on US casualties, then this may be understandable. The British are the second most important contingent in the so-called coalition, and one would expect the British media to report casualties of both the US and UK. However, when reporting on the seriousness of the situation the BBC also separates the figures and focuses on the US casualties. BBC Online has numerous articles dealing exclusively with US casualties, and separately there are a few articles on British casualties [2]. One can only interpret this as an attempt to reduce the reported numbers and hide the scale of the resistance against the “coalition”. And downplaying the British casualties even in British media is odd to say the least.

Classification Fudge

If a soldier steps on a landmine, should the victim be classified as a “hostile” casualty? How about someone killed clearing mines? In order to arrive at the media-reported fatality statistics, one must actually classify several such deaths as “non-hostile” ­- which are thus not reported by most media, as they only report the soldiers killed by “hostile” action. Of course, the major news groups are not required to use the propaganda compliant numbers — they keep extensive lists too. And if they aren’t willing to work out the numbers themselves, they could refer to Lunaville (a good quality data source) [3]. However, the classification currently used definitely results in a reduction of the number of reported casualties. It is also clear that the Pentagon’s numbers are used widely; otherwise, one couldn’t explain how CNN’s figures are the same as those reported by the BBC. Anyone attempting to record casualty figures, distinguishing for cause of death, would most likely have derived a different tally. Since this is not the case with major media, one can only infer that the use of propaganda compliant numbers serves to reduce the reported toll.

There is also clear manipulation of the data. For example, soldiers killed by hostile actions are subsequently reclassified as accidental deaths [4]. The simple fact that this manipulation is evident to anyone willing to investigate this should be reason enough to report all the fatalities irrespective of their reported cause of death, but this is not the case.

The graph below shows a relatively high level of “non-hostile” deaths during May 2003. It looks somewhat suspicious, and it may be an interesting question that intrepid embedded journalists could ask of their Pentagon handlers. Initially there were many deaths due to “Humvee rollovers” ­- 17 to be precise; perhaps soldiers now wear seat belts explaining why this cause of death has disappeared. A more likely explanation is that the cause of death was really due to hostile action, i.e., rollovers of an explosive kind. Even a simple eyeball approach to statistics reveals an odd reduction of the “non-hostile” deaths in the graph.

Honest reporting would require tallying a casualty if the victim would be alive today had they not been in Iraq. Dying of heatstroke, unexplained illnesses, clearing landmines, Humvee rollovers, suicide, fragging [5], should all be included in the tally. Only then is it possible to obtain a better picture of what is happening on the ground, and estimate what the real casualty figures may be like in the future. And there is one argument that Americans will surely understand: these numbers also indicate how costly this occupation is going to be in dollar terms.

Some Statistics

It is curious that for a nation obsessed with stock market charts virtually no news organization publishes soldier fatality charts. The chart below merges the fatalities of both the US and uk (yes, lowercase uk ­- the British contingent is less than 10% of the total). It is clear that there is an upward fatality trend, and this is surprising because all foreign military forces in Iraq have reduced their exposure. For example, this is what Patrick Cockburn had to say about this:

Overall, the capture of Saddam Hussein seems to have made little difference to the level of resistance. This is not immediately obvious, because the number of attacks on US forces is down to about 17 a day now, compared with twice that two months ago. But this is in large part because, eager to cut their casualties, US commanders cut the number of patrols they carry out by two thirds from 1,500 a day in November to 500 a day in December.

So, if the exposure to potential threats has diminished, and the casualty rate is up, then this only means one thing: the resistance is growing fiercer. The overall average rate of fatalities stands at 1.5 per day for the May 1 through Jan. 27, 2004 period. The rate in the last month stands at 1.8, and the forecast for the fatality rate in May 2004 is 2.1/day. The rate of fatalities is increasing. Whereas during the first four months of the occupation the reported “hostile” causes of fatalities stood at 50%, now this has risen to 66% for the period May 1st thru Jan. 27, 2004.

Curiously, no media organization publishes the racial composition of the fatalities. Find a table below, this refers to the May 1, 2003 through Jan 27, 2004 period.

Race/ethnic group of US-uk soldiers (1/v/03 ­ 27/i/04) KIA


PAUL de ROOIJ is a writer living in London. He can be reached at (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted.)