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Friday, October 29, 2004



Well, said.

I am always astonished at the high minded rhetoric thrown around about our willingness to "pay any price" to bring freedom to the Iraqis---yet tallying up the far greater price in lives paid by the objects of our unasked for grand beneficence is just too much of a bother.

John Moore (Useful Fools)

How the heck is the US to keep a civilian death toll? In a country with the security issues of Iraq, it would not be possible to come close to a good number. If you look at the Hopkins survey, security issues reduced their sampling area. A US effort to keep track would have the same problem. The genuine "collateral damage" casualties will almost all be in areas controlled by rebels or terrorists. You can't waltz in there and count dead civilians. The hospitals in hostile areas can't be trusted either. We saw that with the first Marine attack on Fallujah.

Having what you want to count be in hostile territory, with hostile residents eager to exaggerate the civilian death toll for political reasons, makes such an idea even less practical.

Finally, what purpose would such a count serve? Provide political fodder for those who oppose the war? Can you think of any other value?

The US is using technology and tactics that minimize civilian deaths, but when the enemy is among the civilians, sometimes there is nothing you can do. Many Amore mericans have died as a result of tactics chosen for their reduced risk to civilians.

For example, the Marine invasion of Fallujah minimized the use of heavy weapons - bombs and artillery - to minimize civilian deaths. Had the Marines simply wanted to take over Fallujah, without regard for civilian casualties, they would have provided an escape route, and then started heavy bombing and shelling. Fewer Marines would have died. A whole lot more civilians would have died.

I think any complaint about civilian deaths has to be taken in context. If we weren't there, how many would Saddam have killed? What state would Iraq be in regarding weapons of mass destruction and terrorism?

The US military prides itself on minimizing civilian deaths. It probably produces fewer civilian deaths for a given operation than any other force in the world is capable of.

Furthermore, they have been trying to avoid any kind of body count mentality, because of the trouble it caused during the Vietnam War.

Marc Cooper

Hostile territory? In a country we occupy? With a government we installed? We have no responsibility to keep a guesstimate? We just kill them and let someone else sort them out? Yes, there's a context for eveything. And yes, I dont think civilians are purposefully targeted. But it tests the imagination to believe the US is interested in a political victory if it ignores political realities. Dead civilians, for whatever reasons, are political realities. They sure are for us, arent they?


"I think any complaint about civilian deaths has to be taken in context. If we weren't there, how many would Saddam have killed?"

According to all serious Middle East experts, that's a no-brainer, far far fewer than have been killed or died unnecessarily in the last year and a half in Iraq. Just compare numbers with the last ten years.
Another interesting stat, and entirely consistent with the history of war, the majority of civilians dead, women and children, followed by the elderly.


There is an irony in the questioning of the numbers, which is fine by me, since most statistical analyses tend to be flawed in one respect or another. Michael Turner made an excellent argument about the terribly unreliable character of the estimates of 'millions' killed in Cambodia a while ago on the Totten comments section, and boy was he attacked for that. Similar criticisms can be made and have been made by serious demographers about the hyped numbers around the Great Leap Forward famine. None of these change the reality that awful things happened in both instances, but when challenges are made against the numbers in the common sensical discourse on official enemies of the US, rarely are they deconstructed, to borrow the now chique Derridean concept. However, when liberal scientists come out with estimates of the motherland's role in creating havoc and death abroad in unnecessary military adventures based on almost unprecedented lies and media complicity, immediately out come the criticisms of the methodology.
And now I await the invariable attacks of being a Khymer Rouge Maoist lover of Sodom.


Juan Cole has an excellent commentary on the study:



Civilian deaths taken into context? This strikes me as similar to the arguments I heard at the time of Abu Ghraid, that our torutues weren't as bad as Saddams. I mean not only are we an occupying army in Iraq, but we went in there supposedly on a democratising mission. Apologetics for torture, abuse and civilian on our behalf strike me as hollow. While we're speaking of casualties, I just caught Seymour Hersh on TV arguing that US bombing of civilian neighbourhoods in Iraq has increased dramatically, with next to one in the US press bothering to issue reports, much less question the adminstration.

As for Josh's proposition that the US "prides itself" on maintaining low civilian casualties...United States of Amnesia for all!

Nell Lancaster

John Moore said: "The US military prides itself on minimizing civilian deaths. It probably produces fewer civilian deaths for a given operation than any other force in the world is capable of."


When an organization has a serious goal, something that it takes pride in, it measures that something. If not, there is no way to tell whether the goal is being achieved, to learn ways to improve in the future, etc. The military measures a great many things for these reasons, things small and large.

Therefore, a complete failure to make any accounting of civilian deaths resulting from U.S. military action, in Afghanistan and Iraq, shows that minimizing these deaths is not a serious goal. Instead, there is simply an assertion, an article of faith, that lower civilian deaths are the result of new fighting techniques.

Carl Conetta, with the Project for Defense Alternatives, and the Canadian military blogger Bruce Rolston, have made these points with more authority than I in their examinations of civilian casualties in the U.S.-waged Afghan and Iraq wars.

Bombing cities kills large number of civilians. The U.S. military is bombing cities on a weekly basis in Iraq. Many Americans do not know this, and many do not want to know.

too many steves

I am having trouble discerning a positive difference between 10,000 and 100,000 civilian deaths other than that the higher count would provide certain evidence that our precision bombing is actually not very precise.

silent cal

Regarding the last comment by too many steves (and how can there ever be "too many steves"?), I am having trouble discerning how the lives of 90,000 people wouldn't constitute a "positive difference". I must also note that often it appears that the folks who have been backed into the corner of rationalizing the war in Iraq on the basis of their concern for Saddam's war crimes and mass graves - deaths that in most cases date to conflicts in which the U.S. either assisted Saddam with military intelligence or encouraged an anti-Saddam uprising that our leaders then turned their backs on - make rather astoundingly bloodless comments about civilian Iraqi deaths (and U.S. casualties for that matter.)

surly cal

One more thing on this issue, and it will be my last. Let's remember that the folks who would rather we evade the issue of Iraqi casualties also objected to Nightline showing the names and faces of our own kids who've died in this war.

Spencer Ackerman in TNR

This is how the Johns Hopkins-Columbia-Mustansiriya figure was derived:

The researchers conducted their survey in September 2004. They randomly selected 33 neighborhoods of 30 homes from across Iraq and interviewed the residents about the number and ages of the people living in each home. Over 7,800 Iraqis were included. Residents were questioned about the number of births and deaths that occurred in the household since January 2002. Information was also collected about the causes and circumstances of each death. When possible, the deaths were verified with a death certificate or other documentation.

The researchers compared the mortality rate among civilians in Iraq during the 14.6 months prior to the March 2003 invasion with the 17.8 month period following the invasion. The sample group reported 46 deaths prior to the March 2003 and 142 deaths following the invasion. The results were calculated twice, both with and without information from the city of Falluja. The researchers felt the excessive violence from combat in Falluja could skew the overall mortality rates. Excluding information from Falluja, they estimate that 100,000 more Iraqis died than would have been expected had the invasion not occurred.

Essentially, the 100,000-deaths figure is reached extrapolating from that 7,800 sample to the estimated March 2003 population of 24.4 million Iraqis. I can't for a minute pretend I know whether or not this approach is methodologically sound or not. But here's what the Associated Press says about it:

Richard Peto, an expert on study methods who was not involved with the research, said the approach the scientists took is a reasonable one to investigate the Iraq death toll.

However, it's possible that they may have zoned in on hotspots that might not be representative of the death toll across Iraq, said Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University in England.

Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

According to the AP, the survey's lead researcher, Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins University, decided when the Lancet article would be published, and influencing the election was undeniably a factor:

"I emailed it in on Sept. 30 under the condition that it came out before the election," Roberts told The Associated Press. "My motive in doing that was not to skew the election. My motive was that if this came out during the campaign, both candidates would be forced to pledge to protect civilian lives in Iraq.

"I was opposed to the war and I still think that the war was a bad idea, but I think that our science has transcended our perspectives," Roberts said. "As an American, I am really, really sorry to be reporting this."

"This isn't about individual soldiers doing bad things. This appears to be a problem with the approach to occupation in Iraq," Roberts said.

The researchers called for further confirmation by an independent body such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the World Health Organization.

too many steves

Silent Cal: 100000 civilian deaths is certainly worse than 10000, but my point is that 10000 dead civilians is pretty damn horrible. My bad for being unclear.

The blame for these deaths falls to both sides - the insurgents because they actively attempt to make distinguishing warriors from civilians impossible and because they hide and travel among the civilians; and we, the Coalition, because we deploy battlefield tactics that allow for such a high number of civilian casualties even given what we know of the insurgents tactics.

Worse yet, I am suspicious that the "collatoral damage" that results from our imprecision is an ancillary part of the overall war effort in that it may have the effect of undermining the support for the insurgents among the locals.


I have taught statistics in the past (though not currently) and have some familiarity with the topic. Marc is correct in the sense that this study is deeply flawed and should not be part of the debate of "numbers." I am strongly pro-life, and thus even one needless death (other than due to old age) is a tragedy. But I also know that war produces dead peoples.
I was going to write an article about the Lancet study for Marc, but he did a good job of puncturing the methodology. You can find some that support the methodology, but many more who do not. Suffice it to say that it is "useless" information.
Now, collateral deaths are a tragedy as I said, and even more so to the ones that loved the deceased. But, expecting Bush (or Clinton, or Johnson, or ... fill in the blank) to be able to eliminate civilian casualties is a no-brainer, it can't be done.
In WWII, terror bombing of cities was governmental policy and may have indeed been necessary to end a war that might not have ended otherwise. Dresden, London, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Berlin, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Tokyo, Rome, Palermo (the list goes on and on) saw huge numbers of civilian casualties. The civilian loss of life in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam etc far exceeded the combatant casualty counts.
Is Iraq any different? Apparently not! In addition, I am not relying on the bogus numbers of the Lancet study either. There have been far too many civilian casualties.
During the years between gulf wars, some estimates of "children casualties" were as high as 4,000 or 5,000 per month. However, in 1999, Unicef estimated 108 infants per 1000 births dying. Lancet says 57 per 1000. So, one could argue from those numbers that the war improved the chances of an infant making it to childhood. That is bull and everyone knows it, but it does point to numbers being used to bolster arguments. In the "social sciences" this type of advocacy has been going on for a long time (3 million homeless anyone?) This type of statistical game playing is used to generate sympathy for a cause and you are one cold-hearted sob if it does not affect you. But the numbers are still a lie.
As Marc said regarding Pinochet, there is a huge difference between 25,000 and 3,200. While the murder of 3,200 people is a true tragedy, the sympathy grabbing idea of 25,000 is so much more horrendous
We need to do everything we can to make every effort to minimize any civilian casualty. But, know that it cannot, will not be a perfect result. Especially when the "insurgency" hides among the civilian population and wantonly attacks that population.
Civilian death is tragic, but usually unavoidable. Combatant death is desired in war (the other guys, not your guys). When it is government policy (as in WWII, both sides) it is "the national will."
As Stalin once is said to have said "One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are merely a statistic." Keep a perspective on the reporting as well as the cause.


"The blame for these deaths falls to both sides - the insurgents because they actively attempt to make distinguishing warriors from civilians impossible and because they hide and travel among the civilians; and we, the Coalition, because we deploy battlefield tactics that allow for such a high number of civilian casualties even given what we know of the insurgents tactics."

Since many of the civilian deaths are due to the bombing campaigns, I can't see how the two can be equivalent for starters. But even more important, most of the world would not agree with your statement by virtue of the utterly illegal and unnecessary characteristic of the occupation alone. The idea, for example, that a resistance movement in the US wouldn't engage guerilla tactics to get rid of a superpower 10x our size in military power [say from Mars] is pretty hard to believe. Recall the Brits complained endlessly about the use of guerilla tactics when they fought against the American revolution. No less did we complain about guerilla tactics during Vietnam, as did the French in Algeria, the Italians in Ethiopia, etc. Not anything new really, nor is it new that the occupying powers try to blame the resistance for the large numbers of war related deaths and injuries, loss of economic subsistence, etc.


"Civilian death is tragic, but usually unavoidable."

However, it is only noteworthy in the media, with exceptions for the sake of 'balance', with outrage when the 'enemy' is responsible for the civilian deaths. The media has made a far far bigger deal of civilians being killed by whatever form of resistance is involved in the killing of civilians than the far larger numbers being killed by 'precision bombs', trigger nervous soldiers, etc. The outrage at the 'enemy' is far far greater in the US, no less is the attention to US lives lost. At least this is consistent with the war effort however, which had nothing to do with helping Iraqis anyhow.

M. Simon

Here is an Iraqi who has suffered greatly from the war who believes the price is worth it. It seems that a number of Iraqis place a rather celestial value on Liberty.


When you look at what Americans have been willing to pay for liberty it wonders me why so many Americans think that only we value liberty so highly. Or is it that you think the wogs are different?


No Marc. You're wrong. They're not really dead. The jihadis have kidnapped them all and are hiding them in a bunker outside Tehran just to shame the U.S.

Shouldn't war ALWAYS be a last resort for the reasons being discussed. Can anyone seriously argue that THIS war was a last resort ? Don't bother rehashing current Admin talking points for it. Just think about it.

Shouldn't full-scale war ALWAYS be a last resort for the reasons being discussed. Can anyone seriously argue that THIS war was a last resort ? Don't bother rehashing current Admin talking points for it. Just think about it.


Mr. Simon, Your reference is plainly in the minority, most Iraqis want the occupation to end today, not tomorrow.
As for Americans not having the stomach, hey, we're not that much different from the Bush family now are we? Maybe if it were their kids dying, we'd feel like we had stronger stomachs.
Check out this marine's reflections on the war:


M. Simon

So let me see if I have got it.

The "insurgents" in Iraq are promoting liberal democracy in Iraq and the Bushies want to impose an American controlled tyrany?


Once upon a time I was a liberal - you know - extend the values of liberty and self rule through out the world. Peaceably if possible by force when necessary. We rejoiced at the overthrow of tyrants.


I'm still a liberal. Only now instead of a Democrat, I'm a Republican.

How did that happen?


Liberalism in America is very sick these days. The sickness started when we gave the Vietnamese people to the Communists (a move I supported at the time - alas).

Why have the Democrats put up Kerry when they could have had Lieberman? A dude who would have gotten my vote in an instant. Lieberman understands capitalism generates wealth and it ought to be nurtured. Without wealth it is impossible to help the less fortunate.

Lieberman also understands the war. I think he would have been as unrelenting as Bush.

So here I am stuck with the Republicans and the chimp in chief.

Let me repeat. What ever happened to liberalism in America?


A quick question: GM, I certainly have never taught statistics, but my degree and post grad work is in psychology, so I was forced into dealing with the odious number stuff more than I'd have liked. So, explain, if you would, why you say that the Lancet methods are so deeply flawed that the shouldn't be considered.

First let me qualify my question by saying---it seems to me, simply from a logical perspective, that the Lancet estimates are just that: estimates. Their methods seem roughly analogous to polling numbers, and other like surveys that use random samplings to extrapolate the whole, with the understanding that there may be other factors---plus or minus---that the samplings fail to measure, causing them to skew high or low.

In other words, while it would be foolish to take those Lancet numbers to the bank (and purely on a gut level, as has been expressed here and elsewhere, most of us suspect that they're skewing pretty high), yet to say that they are so flawed as to be useless even as estimates, thus they should not be factored in as part of the numbers dialogue at all, doesn't track logically---at least to my admittedly math-phobic mind. So explain what your thinking is on this, if you wouldn't mind.

Also, this is a 'graph from the Juan Cole run down on the issue that Steve has linked to above. For those of you not, at least occasionally glancing at Juan Cole's blog, I certainly recommend you start. Cole has a strong POV, which you'll easily discern. However, his contacts in and around the ME are getting better all the time, thus--- whether you agree with his take on the facts or not-- he's an excellent source for those attempting to keep an eye the situation in Iraq et al, beyond what you see on the nightly news.

Here's the Juan Cole graph:

"The most important finding from my point of view is not the magnitude of civilian deaths, but the method of them. Roberts and Burnham find that US aerial bombardments are killing far more Iraqi civilians than had previously been suspected. This finding is also not a surprise to me. I can remember how, on a single day (August 12), US warplanes bombed the southern Shiite city of Kut, killing 84 persons, mainly civilians, in an attempt to get at Mahdi Army militiamen. These deaths were not widely reported in the US press, especially television. Kut is a small place and has been relatively quiet except when the US has been attacking Muqtada al-Sadr, who is popular among some segments of the population there. The toll in Sadr City or the Shiite slums of East Baghdad, or Najaf, or in al-Anbar province, must be enormous...."

One more thing: Just to head off another three-page John Moore diatribe: no one is suggesting that the military isn't doing it's best to avoid civilian casualties, but if you invade a country and, post invasion, find yourself fighting a widespread guerrilla resistant movement, one of two things is likely to happen: Either A. you will lose, or B. you will unavoidably kill a tremendous number of civilians. The Catch 22 is, of course, the more civilians you kill, the larger the resistance is likely to grow.

In terms of the World War II analogies in terms of civilian casualties---at the risk of sounding like a broken record: In WWII WE WERE RESPONDING TO AN UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON THE U.S.! Morality was on our side.

In Afghanistan: WE WERE RESPONDING TO AN UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON THE U.S.. Morality was on our side.

Not so in Iraq. Period. Thus the morality of a mounting number of civilian casualties becomes harder and harder to justify.

M. Simon

I'm sure only a minority want liberty in Iraq.

It was the same in 1776 and that turned out all right.

The key for me is - after every bombing the numbers applying for positions in the Iraqi security services increases.

And then we have the success in Afghanistan.

You think we will muck up Iraq as badly as we have done in Afghanistan? I hope so.

There will be elections in Iraq in a couple of months. People will have a chance to vote and voice their opinion (kind of like we do in America from time to time). Might it not be wise to see what the outcome of that vote is?

Now that we have committed to Iraq shouldn't we wait a bit to hear the voice of the Iraqi people? Or do you fear that in a fair election that the Iraqis might want a few more years of American support until like Germany and Japan they can stand on their own?

In fact until the fall of the Soviets the Germans were at least somewhat happy about American willingness to defend them. Why should the Iraqis be any different?

Is it because the Vietnamese are happier under communist tyrany than the South Koreans are under American imposed liberty? I believe that. For sure.


This from today's New York Daily News regarding he OBL tape:


"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."

A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."

He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.

Osama bin Laden alive, well and threatening America is....A LITTLE GIFT??!!!!!!!

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