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War May Have Cost Iraq 2.5% of Its People

Wall Street Journal October 11, 2006
By Joseph Schuman

A new estimate of the death toll from the war in Iraq is so tragically vast it raises the question of whether the U.S.-led invasion and reworking of the country can ever be considered a success no matter how the conflict is resolved.

The study, to be published in Saturday's edition of the British medical journal the Lancet, finds that roughly 600,000 Iraqis have died in the violence. This number, produced by a team from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, represents "an additional 2.5% of Iraq's population [that] died above what would have occurred without conflict," the report says, according to The Wall Street Journal. It compares with a civilian casualty rate for May through August this year of 117 people a day, according to a U.S. military study; other tabulations that have pegged the amount of civilian fatalities at about 50,000 to more than 150,000; and President Bush's declaration 10 months ago that "30,000, more or less" have been killed during and since the invasion.

The study was produced by a survey of 1,849 Iraqi families in 47 neighborhoods across Iraq that were selected by population size rather than the level of violence. And, the New York Times notes, it is an estimate rather than a precise count, with a margin of error that ranges from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths. These numbers, over a three-year period, compare with Human Rights Watch's estimate of 250,000 to 290,000 people killed by Saddam Hussein's regime, the Journal adds. And the surveyors working for Johns Hopkins reported a steady increase in mortality since the invasion that accelerated in the past year, reflecting the uptick in violence already reported by the U.S. military, news media and civilian groups, the Washington Post says.

The numbers are sure to meet skepticism from supporters of the war and others. But even at the low range of the margin of error, they will surely inflame debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq -- especially at a time when the purported testing of a nuclear bomb by North Korea has renewed doubts about the Bush administration's targeting among the nations it designated as the "axis of evil." A host of books, reportage and congressional inquiries have portrayed an administration that relied on faulty intelligence that supported a scenario its most hawkish senior officials wanted to see: a looming threat from weapons of mass destruction. Supporting that argument was a vision to remake a more democratic Middle East, a theme more vociferously promoted by President Bush especially after the WMD threat proved fictional.

Newsweek's Christopher Dickey, in revisiting the axis-of-evil speech and the evolution of the Iraq, Iran and North Korean stories since then, suggests Iraq-war planners overlooked the importance of hard intelligence, one of the oldest axioms of combat as described by Sun Tzu in "The Art of War": "Advance knowledge cannot be gained from ghosts and spirits, inferred from phenomena, or projected from the measures of Heaven, but must be gained from men for it is the knowledge of the enemy's true situation." War, Mr. Dickey argues, "is not a metaphysical undertaking." In theory, the removal of Saddam Hussein may have been the best solution for the rogue nation of Iraq. But if these new civilian-casualty numbers are borne out, the war there may draw a new comparison to Vietnam, and an anonymous major's comment about the village of Ben Tre in 1968, that "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."

As the U.S. tries to build an international consensus on how to punish North Korea, it is already facing resistance from key partners China and South Korea on how to deal with another rogue state it would like to depose, the Journal reports. "The prospect of regime change in Pyongyang may cheer many in Washington who view Mr. Kim as running a militarist regime that has tortured and starved its own people and traded missiles to Pakistan, Iran, Syria and others," the Journal says. "But turmoil in North Korea could damage the economies of China and South Korea, set off a refugee crisis and lead to military conflict."


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