Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some Numbers from Iraq

Haven't weighed in for quite a while on our adventures in Iraq.

The US military no longer keeps track of enemy combatants killed or "enemy" civilian collateral damage. Why upset the country with that kind of downer?

But statistics are as American as basketball.

The US media is filled with memorials to the roughly 1700 Americans killed in Iraq. Along with every American, I'm sad to see the lives of our family members cut down well before their time.

But what about the Iraqis who've been killed and wounded? My experience is that Americans are pretty decent people. Why so little comment or concern about the deaths of so many Iraqis and Afghans?

In the most rigorous report on civilian casualties in Iraq undertaken since the war began, two British based NGOs carefully tracked news reports of civilian deaths from March 20, 2003 (the day the invasion of Iraq started) to March 19, 2005. Their numbers don't include the many people killed from March 2005 till now, one of the bloodiest periods in the entire campaign.

They conservatively estimate that 23,000 Iraqi civilians died during that period. Another 42,500 were injured.

Of the estimates I've read, this one comes in on the low side. Other reports put the number of civilians killed at twice that number.

What about Iraqi soldiers? Sober estimates put the number of Iraqi soldiers killed during our initial invasion at around 15,000. Since the new Iraqi government has taken over, thousands more Iraqi police and military have been killed.

So I think it's fair to say that at least 40,000 Iraqis have died since we invaded the country when you include the couple of thousand killed in the past few months. If we assume a 2-1 injury to death ration, we're probably looking at 80,000 Iraqi wounded.

Basically, 120,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded in a little over 2 years. That breaks down into 20,000 Iraqi deaths a year and 40,000 wounded.

For perspective, consider that 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam over a 10 year period.

Of course, the US military killed and wounded only a portion of the dead and damaged. Foreign insurgents as well as Iraqis who are understandably very angry that a foreign power is dominating their country--and in some cases, Iraqis angry at the loss of inappropriate privelage--took out a lot of those people too.

But Iraq had no foreign Islamic militants in the country before we invaded. And they certainly had no home grown fighters willing to kill themselves and others in order to get our troops out.

Iraq is now the training and breeding ground for an increasing number of even more battle tested and sophisticated terrorists. A CIA report a few months ago made that clear. The conservative international magazine The Economist , which supported the war, reported this week that Iraq is now becoming "the new Afghanistan." Afghanistan became the breeding ground of Al Queda during the Russians' stupid and ill-advised war in that country, and that conflict led directly to the newfound power of Al Queda and 9/11.

Hussein is a truly evil man.

But even the most liberal estimates of his reign of terror put the civilian death toll at 300,000 over 30 years.

Twice as many Iraqis are dying per year since our invasion. And Iraq is now ground zero for a whole new generation of global Islamic terrorists.

Comparisons like this are grim and absract mathematics. Ignoring them might be an even greater abstraction.

I understand why we invaded and have real sympathy for that line of thinking.

But even people who support what we've been doing might take a few minutes to look at the results. Some very good things no doubt. But some very disturbing things too.

Let's add it up. 40,000 dead Iraqis and 80,000 wounded. In Afghanistan, conservative estimates place the death toll at 10,000.

Al Queda killed 2500 Americans on 9/11. That was our original motivation to get into this whole thing and it continues to be our primary motivation in spite of all the ideological spin since then.

50,000 of "them" for 2,500 of "us," and "we've" lost another 1700 along the way during the course of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

If we compare the number of Muslim deaths in these two wars to the 9/11 deaths, we're looking at a 20-1 ratio.

If we add in US military deaths, we've got a 12 to 1 ratio.

Those are some statistics worth considering.

When do the big numbers of dead people among "them" begin to stir real public concern? After well over three years and two wars I still haven't seen much public discussion. Maybe it's time to start it up.


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