Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a sociologist and editor of Pulsemedia.org, discusses the highly contested estimated number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion; why Iraq Body Count (the media’s go-to source) vastly under-reports casualties; how “excess death” statistical studies work; and how low-balling the costs of war – in terms of blood and treasure – distorts the public debate.
‘So many’, wrote TS Eliot, reflecting on the waste land left by the First World War. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”
This notion is unlikely to cross the minds of those surveying the devastation left by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The most frequently quoted fatality figure – about 115,000 Iraqis killed – is shocking. But compared to major conflicts of the past century, it is a relatively modest toll. The Battle of the Somme alone killed three times as many. More were killed by a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.
Former British prime minster Tony Blair, and then-US vice president Dick Cheney, were perhaps conscious of this when they expressed “no regrets” on the 10th anniversary of the war last month.
That the perpetrators of an aggressive war should accept the lowest costs for their folly is unsurprising. What is less explicable is why so many supposed critics of the war are crediting the same estimate. Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Centre for American Progress’s Iraq War Ledger use it as their main source.
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