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Iraqi Death Toll Much Higher Than U.S.


Iraqi Death Toll Much Higher Than U.S.
By JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 25, 9:49 PM ET

The number of Iraqis who have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion is many times larger than the U.S. military death toll of 2,000 in Iraq. In one sign of the enormity of the Iraqi loss, at least 3,870 were killed in the past six months alone, according to an Associated Press count.

One U.S. military spokesman said it is possible the figure for the entire war could be 30,000 Iraqis, which many experts see as a credible estimate. Others suspect the number is far higher, since the chaos in Iraq leaves the potential for many killings to go unreported.

The losses are far larger than most analysts and Pentagon planners expected before the war and mean Iraqi civilians are bearing most of the suffering.

"We may never know the true number of the Iraqi public that has been killed or injured in this war," said the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan. "The Iraqi public has taken the brunt of the casualties."

Every day claims more victims: A car bomb targeting American troops that kills Iraqi passers-by. An insurgent attack on a police station. Sectarian militias dumping blindfolded corpses in the Euphrates River.

Civilians made up more than two-thirds of the Iraqis killed in war-related violence since the country's first elected government took power on April 28, according to the AP count. The rest were Iraqi security personnel.

Boylan said the U.S. military keeps its own tally of Iraqi dead, but does not release it. He said he had asked U.S. authorities to see the estimates of Iraqi dead himself, and was refused.

But he suggested an estimate from Iraq Body Count, a British anti-war group that has compiled a death toll based on media reports, appeared credible. The group estimated that from 26,690 to 30,051 Iraqi civilians were killed, or roughly 1,000 per month in the 30 months since the war began.

"I guess it is certainly possible given some of the spectacular events, but hard to say," Boylan said via e-mail.

Some outside experts call that number about right.

Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst and a senior fellow at National Defense University, said she accepts estimates of 20,000 to 30,000 killed.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a report issued Friday that the Iraq Body Count figure of about 30,000 Iraqis killed was "extremely uncertain" — but that it did seem the best estimate available.

Iraq Body Count's figures include Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces as well as by insurgents and militia. They also include homicides stemming from the breakdown in law and order.

The AP's count is based on reports from police, hospitals, government officials and eyewitnesses. The death toll includes Iraqi police and military — but not insurgents, victims of ordinary homicides or the nearly 1,000 Shiite pilgrims killed August 21 in a bridge stampede after someone shouted a suicide bomber was in the crowd.

There is no way of knowing how many deaths go uncounted, especially in areas too remote or dangerous to visit.

Estimates from other experts who measure overall Iraqi deaths, including insurgents and Iraqi troops, range higher than 30,000.

Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution who has closely followed the war's casualties, said an average of 1,500 to 2,000 Iraqis have been killed per month, about half of them insurgents.

While American troops are killed at the rate of about 60 to 70 per month, the new Iraqi military suffers that many deaths in a week, mainly from insurgent attacks that rose to about 90 per day in September, O'Hanlon said.

Exacerbating the carnage is the Iraqi crime rate, now the highest in the Middle East, with about 10,000 homicides a year that would not have happened without the invasion, he said.

The total of Iraqi deaths — including insurgents — from all manner of war-related violence could run as high as 70,000, said O'Hanlon, who teaches a course at Columbia University on estimating war casualties.

"These numbers matter a lot," O'Hanlon said. "They matter in humanitarian terms. And they fuel the insurgency, because the perception and sometimes the reality is that we haven't done enough to protect innocent Iraqi lives."

One effort to count deaths, a study published in the Lancet medical journal last October, estimated that 98,000 more civilians died in Iraq since March 2003 than would otherwise have been expected. Many experts were skeptical of those findings, which were based on extrapolations.

As high as it is, the Iraqi death rate so far is much lower than that of the Vietnamese during the 1954-1976 Vietnam War, when about 1.1 million Vietnamese fighters and some 2 million civilians were killed — a rough average of 12,000 per month.

The Pentagon made it clear from the start of the Iraq invasion that it would not be counting Iraqi bodies, perhaps a reaction to the enduring embarrassment from its inflating Vietnam War body counts to demonstrate U.S. success in the battlefield.

John Sloboda, the director of Iraq Body Count, said the counting is left to volunteers like him, scouring the news for reports of Iraqis killed. He believes his own group's count is low.

News organizations have periodically tried to gauge the toll. A 2003 AP survey of records in large Iraqi hospitals found at least 3,240 civilians had been killed in the war's first month.

Responsibility for the tally now belongs to the Iraqi government and not the U.S. military, said Boylan.

But Iraqi government statistics have mainly covered those killed by insurgents, not by U.S. or Iraqi troops. Sloboda said government figures were consistently lower than his media-based estimates.

Whatever the figure, the rate of killing appears to be growing.

"Most Iraqis remain less secure than they were under Saddam, less secure even than they were in the first year of the American occupation," said James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan and veteran diplomat who now directs the Rand Corp.'s International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Dobbins supplied figures from the Baghdad morgue that show 1,800 violent deaths in 2002, Saddam Hussein's last full year in power. That number jumped beyond 6,000 in 2003, the first year of the American occupation, and topped 8,000 last year, he said.

"Under Saddam, you usually were OK as long as you kept your mouth shut," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group. "Now you might get hurt or even killed almost arbitrarily, given the absence of rule of law, the sectarian fighting, insurgent actions and U.S. carelessness in responding to attacks."

Another Center for Strategic and International Studies expert, Jon Alterman, who heads the think tank's Middle East program, said: "Almost certainly, there were more deaths in the last 2 1/2 years than there would have been had Saddam stayed in power."

But Boylan disputed assertions that Iraq was safer under Saddam.

"The mass graves hold the truth," he said.

___

On the Net:

Iraq Body Count: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

Brookings Institution Iraq Index: http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf

Multi-National Forces, Iraq: http://www.mnf-iraq.com

___

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Krane, who has covered the Iraq war from Baghdad and as an embedded reporter with the U.S. military, interviewed officials and experts in Iraq and Washington from his base in Dubai. Jennifer Farrar of AP's News Research Center in New York provided data for this report.

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At least there is an acknowledgement that "[t]he Iraqi public has taken the brunt of the casualties" -- a fact that, when not overlooked completely, often seems to be treated as almost insignificant in comparison to casualties amongst the invading forces. And let us not forget, either, those who would welcome death, but who are not permitted even that relief from detention and torture without surcease and without recourse of any kind.

It should be noted, perhaps, that some Iraqis also sympathize with the toll amongst U.S. forces -- more so than Brit Hume at least. Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, they hope that the occupiers will soon go home.

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