Counting the Dead in Iraq

Well over a year ago Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a report documenting 100,000 Iraqi dead as a consequence of the US invasion and occupation. At the time, they did not include the thousands of deaths in Falluja as part of their study because they did not want to skew the results upwards. Now, more than a year after the study, there are undoubtedly many thousands more Iraqi deaths. A recent article on CounterPunch by Andrew Cockburn argues that the real death figure may approach 500,000.

It is obvious why the Department of Defense refuses to keep count, they do not want to provide evidence for future war crimes tribunals. The US anti-war movement has rightly condemned the DoD for its disgraceful policy and has widely publicized the massacre of civilians carried out by the US military.

At the same time, the DoD has undercounted the number of American casualties by not adding soldiers whose wounds are inflicted in Iraq, but who die of their injuries later on German or American soil. As is also widely known, the Bush Administration has refused to allow the media to photograph coffins being unloaded at American airports, and the corporate media has largely played along with the administration’s strictures against showing the real carnage in Iraq. Thus, the American public is being presented with a whitewashed version of the war.

The anti-war movement has been united in condemning this practice. However, there are some in the anti-war movement who seem reluctant to publicize all the dead in Iraq. This week, United for Peace and Justice put a “legislative alert” on their website’s front page, written up by its legislative working group, which lists the following casualty figures in Iraq:

* over 28,000 Iraqi civilian lives (and some estimates are as high as 100,000 lives)

* over 2,300 U.S. military lives

* over 4,000 Iraqi police and military deaths

* over 16,500 U.S. troops wounded in combat

* $251 billion spent to date

* $1.3 trillion estimated long-term bill

UFPJ’s legislative working group’s figures raise a couple of questions. First, the 28,000 total for Iraqi civilian casualties is a full 5,000 short of what lists as the absolute minimum number of deaths. So where does UFPJ get its 28,000 figure for civilian deaths and why is that figure prioritized over the Johns Hopkins study (which was conducted as a national survey, based on a scientific sampling of households all over Iraq), which is presented as only an “estimate?”

Secondly, certainly it is proper to count the number of Iraqi police and military deaths in order to get an idea of the price being paid by these Iraqis for the American strategy of “handing over security operations,” otherwise known as creating a puppet army. The stated US strategy is to push poorly trained and ill equipped Iraqis, who are desperate for a paycheck, into the front lines against the resistance. The poverty draft is alive and well in Iraq.

However, one group is suspiciously absent from the legislative working group’s figures, namely, the number of Iraqi resistance fighters killed by the American military and the puppet Iraqi army. Certainly one does not have to agree with the military tactics pursued by every resistance group in Iraq in order to believe that their dead have as much right to be counted as those American soldiers who are used as cannon fodder for an illegal and unjust occupation.

So, why doesn’t the legislative working group list the thousands (or tens of thousands) of resistance fighters killed? They might argue that there are no reliable numbers. This is true enough, but certainly at least an educated guess of “thousands” could be included with an explanatory note. I believe the real answer to this question lies in the so-called “peace legislation” the legislative working group is supporting, which prominently includes Rep. John Murtha’s “strategic redeployment” plan.

Far from being a “peace” proposal, it is an argument for a different kind of war based on Marine special operations, a heavier reliance on the Iraqi puppet army and an escalation of the air war. None of this has anything to do with peace for the people of Iraq. It has everything to do with the Democratic Party trying to find a way to tap into the rising opposition here in America to the war so that they can ride the wave to mid-term victories in November. At the same time, the
Democrats want to make it plain to the oil corporations that they are every bit as committed to dominating the Middle East as the Republicans, even if they are willing to consider different military means to the same ends. They want to have their cake and eat it to.

Many member groups of UFPJ are strongly opposed to Murtha’s proposal, but the legislative working group is supporting it and prominently promoting it. If they believe that a strong anti-war movement can be built by tailoring the facts of the occupation to the sensibilities of hawks like Murtha (which explains leaving out the Iraqi resistance casualties and highlighting the Iraqi puppet army casualties), they are setting in motion a repeat of the 2004 fiasco. Then, the anti-war movement demobilized in order to get behind John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry. In 2006, the line is to support John “Air War” Murtha. In 2008, the ground will be prepared to take a dive for Hillary Rodham “Let’s Bomb Iran” Clinton.

Anti-colonial rebellions are brutal and bloody, and their suppression is even more brutal and bloody. From the American Revolution to the Algerian and Vietnamese wars for national self-determination, military occupations force those resisting it to fight asymmetrical battles, with only a fraction of the firepower at the disposal of the occupier. Thus, as the resistance leader in “The Battle of Algiers” told the French press corps when asked why they disguised bombs in baby carriages, “if the French air force will lend us their jet bombers, we will happily lend them our baby carriages.”

The whole truth needs to be told about Iraq. Some elements of the resistance are sectarian and target civilians, but the majority of the young fighters who are dying in their thousands are no different than the American Minute Men of 1775 or the Algerian or Vietnamese National Liberation Front fighters. They fought and are fighting because a foreign colonial power has seized their homeland, abuses their families and terrorizes and tortures their communities.

We need to end the war. We need to bring our troops home now (not slip them over the border to occupy Iraq’s neighbors) so that no more young Americans are killed or maimed. To do that, we need an anti-war movement that tells the whole truth. This war against the Iraqi people did not begin with George W. Bush. His father began this war in 1991. Bush I killed an estimated 200,000 Iraqis, civilian and soldiers. Bill Clinton killed thousands more in hundreds of bombing raids and missile strikes. Far more deadly were the starvation sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration, which targeted only civilians, and killed 1,000,000 of them. Now, Bush II is continuing the killing. In order to end it, we need to recognize that the people of Iraq have the right to run their own country, and that the Democrats do not have the rights to the anti-war movement’s votes.

TODD CHRETIEN is running for US Senate against Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Green Party ticket in California.



TODD CHRETIEN writes for the Socialist Work.