Monday, October 31, 2005

Civilian casualties and enemy propaganda 

Since every aspect of the Iraq war is apparently a political opportunity for opponents of George W. Bush, anti-Americans, and others who want to discredit our policies, it should not surprise us that estimates of civilian casualties mean so much more than, er, estimates of civilian casualties. That is why last year's "October surprise" Lancet article on civilian casualties made it through the referees at light speed, and that is why opponents of the war blame the United States for all civilian casualties.

It should not surprise us, then, that estimates of civilian casualties have become yet another weapon in the enemy's propaganda campaign. Generally, the press does not do a good job of acknowledging this point, perhaps because so many in the mainstream media are complicit. However, in this morning's report on the continuing battle along Syria's border, one tiny admission that estimates of civilian casualties might not be totally accurate did leak through the A.P.'s editorial filters:
Early Monday, U.S. jets attacked a "safe house" apparently being used by a senior al-Qaida in Iraq cell leader in Obeidi, a border town 185 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. The jets also used precision-guided munitions to attack a second house suspected of being a base for attacks against American and Iraqi forces, the U.S. command said....

Some U.S. airstrikes in the area have resulted in civilian casualties, but locals, including doctors, often appear to exaggerate death tolls under pressure from militants.

Unfortunately, the story is datelined Baghdad, so it is not clear whether the A.P. reporter, Thomas Wagner, was just parroting back the military's assertion or whether he himself believes it. I believe it, though. Given the manifest political value of high civilian casualties to Western opponents of the United States and American opponents of George W. Bush, it would be surprising if the politically sophisticated insurgency weren't pressuring people to inflate civilian casualty reports.

One might well wonder what impact this has had on Iraq Body Count's estimates, which rely on media reports.

If, by the way, you doubt that opponents of American policy in Iraq are using civilian casualties for propaganda purposes, look no further than the press coverage attending the Pentagon's own recently released estimates of civilian casualties. The Telegraph, for example, wrote this:
The United States military has for the first time admitted that it is keeping records of Iraqi deaths as it disclosed that it estimates 26,000 to have been killed or injured by insurgents since January last year....

Although the statistics are revealing, the Pentagon total was challenged yesterday by human rights groups who said they believed the official figures were on the low side.

Iraq's interior ministry has stated that 8,175 Iraqis were killed, and around 18,000 more believed injured, between August 2004 and May 2005 alone.

Iraq Body Count, an organisation that tracks civilian deaths through news reports, indicates that 26,000 to 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the war started in March 2003.

Did you notice how the last two paragraphs are consistent with the Pentagon's estimate, rather than those of "human rights groups" who "believe" that official figures are on the low side?

Iraq's interior ministry reports that 8,175 Iraqis were killed over a ten month period. For those of you still in the second grade, that's around 820 per month. The Pentagon reported 26,000 civilians killed by the insurgents alone since January 2004, or approximately 1300 per month.

Iraq Body Count, a profoundly anti-war group that is nevertheless performing an important function, reports a high estimate of 30,000 Iraqi civilian casualties over approximately thirty months, again fewer than the Pentagon estimate.

Would it have killed the Telegraph -- not exactly a lefty paper -- to point out that the other data available refutes the claims of the "human rights groups" that apparently speak only on background?


By Blogger Dan Kauffman, at Tue Nov 01, 12:08:00 AM:

"Would it have killed the Telegraph -- not exactly a lefty paper -- to point out that the other data available refutes the claims of the "human rights groups" that apparently speak only on background?"

Yes just like I do not know of any reputable Media Source that has come clean on the fact that the Lancet study did not repeat NOT
state that civilian casualties were the oft repeated figure of 100,000 what it DID state was that

"We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000) during the post-war period."

Loose translation

We have a 95% confidence factor that the level of casualites were between 8,000 and 194,000"

Which means the data was so shoddy as to be meaningless or does anyone really think a poll that said Summer of 94

We have a 95% confidence level tha Bush will get between 8% and 92% of the vote would have meant anything,

It would be true, but meaningless as was the Lancet report,  

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