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The secret slaughter in Iraq

Published: September 21, 2007
Section: Opinions


In the last week and a half or so, most of the news reports about the U.S. led occupation of Iraq have focused on the recent testimony of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus as well as the concomitant report on the war written by officials at the White House but generally credited to General Petraeus.

All the pride, pomp, and circumstance attendant on a report which seems to bear such little relation to Iraqi reality distracted the publics attention from an important new study released by the British polling agency Opinion Research Business (ORB).

The firm conducted a face-to-face survey with 1,461 Iraqi adults asking a simple question, How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003? The results are astounding. According to ORB, a quarter of Iraqi households have lost at least one member as a result of violence since the war began in March 2003. Given that Iraq, according to the census of 2005, contains 4,050,597, an ORB press release states, this [sic] data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths between the invasion and August 2007. These data help confirm the most recent and most expansive epidemiological study of Iraq war mortality published in the Lancet last year which estimated between 392,979 and 942,636 civilian dead as of July 2006. If ORB is correct, then in the grim calculus of mass murder, we could say that the American occupation of Iraq is equivalent to approximately one and a half Rwandan genocides, or about four reigns of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Normally, I would call that last sentence despicable. To reduce the cataclysmic slaughter of millions to a mere yardstick of human suffering is an appalling gesture indeed. I mention it only to illustrate the chasm between the way most of us in the U.S. (including many on the left) expect our government to behave and the actual results of American military force. Most of us believe that our countrys democratic and humanitarian rhetoric translate into a concern for limiting the collateral damage which results in any armed conflict. Further, weve been convinced that somehow the technological superiority of our military gives our soldiers a lethal precision which makes this goal easier to achieve. Thats certainly what I thought prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the ORB survey and the two longitudinal mortality studies published in the Lancet paint another, more accurate picture of modern American warfare. Our technological edge doesnt make our murder more precise, just more efficient. Our humanist rhetoric does not impel us to do good;

but is a convenient ideology by which we justify our iniquity to the world and perhaps more importantly to ourselves.

This, and not the Petraeus Report, is the real reason why the ORB poll and the Lancet surveys before it have received such little media attention in this country. We are too shocked by the brutality of our adventures to own up to their true costs. It is, unfortunately, a moral imperative that we do. Che Guevara once predicted that the United States and the international capitalist system it spearheaded would be brought to their knees by two, three, many Vietnams. This global proliferation of guerrilla war never appeared with the intensity that Guevara
hoped for, but in a way his prophecy came true. Unless we recognize the human catastrophe of U.S. imperialism, we doom ourselves and the rest of the world to more and more Vietnams, more and more Iraqs, more and more senseless carnage. Only after we come face to face with the reality of our governments actions can we begin to build an America and a world in which Vietnams and Iraqs are only memories and never divinations.