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Monday, June 26, 2006


The latest on "Iraqi" deaths

Get ready for the next bit of inaccuracy to make it into conventional wisdom. I'll start by giving credit where credit is due, to the Los Angeles Times, who actually decided, after more than three years of the war and occupation, to do some actual investigative reporting on the subject of the number of Iraqi deaths, rather than rely on George Bush and his unsourced (and obviously inaccurate) claim of 30,000 dead:
Nongovernmental organizations have made estimates by tallying media accounts; The Times attempted to reach a comprehensive figure by obtaining statistics from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry and checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts.
And the L.A. Times does use qualifiers to make it clear that their number isn't accurate, and that they know it (emphasis added):
War's Iraqi Death Toll Tops 50,000

Higher than the U.S. estimate, the tally likely is undercounted. Proportionately, it is as if 570,000 Americans were slain in three years.

BAGHDAD — At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
The problem, of course, is that these qualifiers are misleading. When you read a headline that the temperature "tops 100", that usually means it hit 101 or 102, not 150 or 200. Saying that something "likely" is undercounted suggests there is a clear possibility that it isn't. And "at least" means just that.

But the correct qualifying words are "vastly exceeds." Why do I say that? Here's some of the things found just in the L.A. Times article:

L.A. Times: "Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since."

Left I on the News: The "chaotic first year" might well be replaced by "bloody first year"; all by itself that omission could increase the number by 25-33%. And "spotty reporting nationwide" is rather a scary phrase, since we know that the major American assaults have occured outside of Baghdad. How many people were killed in Fallujah alone? The Times doesn't say.

L.A. Times: "The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting."

Left I on the News: Now we move into the realm of the absurd, when it comes to referring to 50,000 "Iraqis" rather than 50,000 Iraqi civilians. Thousands of security forces and tens of thousands of insurgents (resistance fighters) have been killed. Omitting them as if they weren't "Iraqis" makes no sense.

L.A. Times: "Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

"The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. In addition, the ministry said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad."

Left I on the News: OK, now they admit the results are not just undercounted, but "grossly" undercounted in one of the key provinces where fighting (and American bombing) is occuring (not to mention ignoring three entire provinces!).
The Times recognizes their undercount of civilian deaths, but they continue the universal (this site excluded) treatment of not even mentioning the deaths of an estimated 30,000 members of the Iraqi military killed during the invasion and initial phases of the war, as if those people were any less "Iraqi" and are any less dead. There continues to be the implicit claim that those people somehow "deserved" to die, and therefore aren't even worth mentioning or counting, despite the fact that they were killed resisting an illegal, unprovoked war of aggression against their country.

And there's another group completely omitted by the Times, which, despite referring to "Iraqi deaths" in their headline, refers to "deaths by violence" in the body of the article. This completely omits deaths caused by lack of health care, malnutrition, and other such causes which have increased since the war. When it comes to Darfur, both the American media and the U.S. government are quick to talk about "excess deaths" and people killed by "disease and famine" (as well as violence). But when it comes to Iraq, the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study which estimated excess deaths in Iraq at 100,000 more than a year ago is universally (in the corporate media and elsewhere) pooh-poohed.

The number of Iraqi killed violently by the war is well over 100,000, and the number of Iraqi dead as a result of the war, including "excess deaths," quite possibly approaches 200,000. The Times did some actual reporting, which is good, and their work may result in conventional wisdom [sic] citing the figure 50,000 instead of 30,000, which might be considered "better" in being somewhat closer to the truth, but unfortunately the end result will be that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis are as nothing.

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