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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Juan Cole "counts" civilian casualties in Iraq 

Juan Cole tossed off a rather startling paragraph in his morning round-up on Monday:
Iraq Body Count, Reuters says, estimates that 38 Iraqis die in violence every day. Over thirty-five years, that would amount to nearly 500,000 dead. In fact, it is estimated that the Baath party killed 300,000 Iraqis, so the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate. (The number of civilians killed by the Baath is probably in fact exaggerated. Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far.)

Setting aside Cole's Kristofian quibbling over the size of Saddam's killing fields, isn't there something rather horrifying about his formulation? If the Ba'athists aren't killing those 38 Iraqis who die in violence "every day," then who is? Reuters creates the impression that the United States is responsible for more than a third of them:
A report by Iraq Body Count in July said nearly 37 percent of the Iraqi deaths it had recorded were caused by U.S.-led forces, with the rest caused by insurgents and criminal gangs.

There is a huge problem with this number, which I will get to as soon as we figure out who is killing the Iraqi civilians that the United States is not killing. Juan Cole says that it isn't Ba'athists, so it must either be Iraqis who never would have hurt a fly until the Coalition deposed Saddam, or -- say it ain't so! -- al Qaeda. C'mon Juan! If the Ba'athist rejectionists don't form the bulk of the insurgency, who does?

Now for the huge number problem. Reuters' citation of the "37 percent" number from Iraq Body Count's July report(pdf) is so misleading one can only assume that its reporter did not read Iraq Body Count's report. That report calculated that "24,865 civilians have been reported killed, almost all of them as a direct result of violence, between 20 March 2003 and 19 March 2005." Thirty percent (30%) of that number, or about 7,350, were killed during the period of "major combat operations," between March 20, 2003 and May 1, 2003. Since the Coalition was doing almost all of the shooting during that period, it is almost certainly true that virtually all the early civilian casualties derived from Coalition weapons. Since May 2003 (i.e., the end of "major combat operations" and the advent of the insurgency), approximately 23,000 Iraqi civilians have died (according to IBC's "high" estimate, subtracting the deaths before May 1, 2003), and Coalition weapons were responsible for roughly 2,000 of those deaths. That would be fewer than 10%.

So why does Cole insist that the Ba'athists aren't responsible for the current casualties when he quite plainly does not think that foreign fighters are the main culprits, and why does Reuters mislead its readers about the proportion of the casualties inflicted by Americans? Surely the casual observer -- somebody who missed out on a first rate education at a top university, for example -- would say that the people who detonate car bombs in markets or suicide belts on buses are themselves responsible for the murders they commit. Heck, such a dimwit might even think that the ununiformed insurgent is responsible for the deaths of the human shields that he uses to hide from the counterinsurgency. And if our casual observer is a real meathead, he would assume that if insurgents blow up systems for pumping water, they are the ones responsible for the dehydration and disease that follows.

Alas, that is not the moral calculus that informs Juan Cole, Reuters, or Iraq Body Count. According to the latter (and approvingly cited by the former):
This database includes up to 7,350 deaths which resulted from coalition military action during the "major-combat" phase prior to May 1st 2003. In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.

This is important to bear in mind as you listen to the anti-war Left's arguments in favor of immediate retreat from Iraq: No matter how many innocent Iraqis the terrorists slaughter with their bombs or use as human shields, Juan Cole, Reuters, Iraq Body Count and countless others all believe that the United States is the culpable party. If al Qaeda detonated a dirty bomb in the middle of Baghdad and killed 300,000 people, it would be the fault of the United States. This is the morality of the anti-American Left.

Why, then, does it surprise us that so many on the Left believe the United States is responsible for September 11?

9 Comments:

By Blogger Rob Spooner, at Tue Oct 25, 01:22:00 AM:

TigerHawk seems to have mentally zigged when he should have zagged. Cole's reference to the civilians killed by the Baath covers the 35 years they were in power. It does not relate to the 38 per day since the invasion. He makes no attempt to breakdown the components of deaths caused by insurgents. It's hard to see how the paragraph could be so badly misread.

Despite iraqbodycount's claim to include deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation, an extensive review of their database showed me nothing except violent deaths. It's a legitimate, if slightly strained, comparison to average violent deaths under Saddam with violent deaths since the occupation. "38 die every day" is clearly an unsupportable statement, but this response is entirely overblown.

No "culpability" has been assigned. It's just a statement. Prior to 2003, Iraqi civilians died violent deaths at a lower rate than they have since then. Since our replacement reason for invading Iraq, having found no WMD, is to make life better for Iraqis, this is an odd way of doing it.  

By Blogger Dan Kauffman, at Tue Oct 25, 02:46:00 AM:

"No "culpability" has been assigned. It's just a statement. Prior to 2003, Iraqi civilians died violent deaths at a lower rate than they have since then. Since our replacement reason for invading Iraq, having found no WMD, is to make life better for Iraqis, this is an odd way of doing it. "

Why don't you read the State of Union Address in which President Bush made his case for war instead of just parroting moveon.org talking points?

Tell me have we filled up any mass graves with men women and children shot in the back of the head and would you prefer to turn back the clock put Saddam back in charge and have every police station equiped with a meathook in the ceiling?

Odd way of showing concern for the Iraqi people you have.

This indicative of the Peace Movement these days?

We support any facisist butcher as long as no wars are started. Slaughter as many as you feel like just don't cross a border and we and your fellow butchers in the UN will support you?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Oct 25, 06:18:00 AM:

Rob Spooner,

When Cole said that "the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate," he was exonerating the Ba'athists from responsibility for "the current rate." Are not the Ba'athists also responsible for the great majority of current deaths? Yes, unless you believe (i) the current fighters are not Ba'athists, but either previously non-violent Iraqis or foreigner fighters, or (ii) you take the position that the United States is responsible for all civilian casualties in Iraq under the logic of IBC's construction of the Geneva Convention.

Sorry the post was not more clear.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Tue Oct 25, 09:13:00 AM:

If we're talking about who's responsible, then let's make it a simple equation:

If you pull the trigger, you're responsible. Whether you're American, Pakistani, Saudi, or Iraqi, if you kill someone, you're responsible for that death.

If you create the conditions for low-level civil war on the basis of faulty intelligence and a covert ideological agenda, then what are you?

Irresponsible and Criminal.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Oct 25, 09:19:00 AM:

In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.

If you take it as a given that most of the civilian deaths "resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation" are the result of terrorist action, then doesn't it follow that the Coalition has a "binding responsibility" to stop the terrorists? And how should this be done? By gentle persuasion, I guess.

No, you kill as many terrorists as you can as quickly as you can and hope, by that means, to dissuade others. And you continue to train Iraqis to provide for their own security, all the while encouraging the transition to representative democracy. Which is exactly what is happening.

But what would the anti-war Left have us do instead? Leave now, and leave ordinary Iraqi civilians to the tender mercies of those who would kill or control them. Some kind of liberalism that is.  

By Anonymous larwyn, at Tue Oct 25, 12:28:00 PM:

The Wizard of Oz gave the
scarecrow a piece of paper -
wasn't it a doctorate of something or other.

The premise being that these
papers and letters after your name affirm your intellect.

Frank Oz may have done a rewrite on this ending had he met up with Juan or Ward
or Paul et al.

Sadly, parents are scrimping to pay these "Institutions of Higher Learning" to indoctrinate their children.

See that the celebration of the 2000th is all set up at
a campus near you - Princeton is naturally included. The count here
is also manipulated to include deaths by accident and suicides.

The Military is actually reporting that since it has gone to a war footing the number of deaths by accidents across the services, home and abroad has diminished. In other words that figure has been
greater in recent "peacetime".

Now recall how the party of
"supporting our troops" fought to get deaths by any
means counted in combat zone. Gives them their "celebration" of 2000
when actual combat deaths are ~300 lower.

Are these people evil or just brain damaged by drug use? Or both?

Sorry for rambling - but GW
just finished excellant speech on Iraq and GWOT and
again pounded on the similarities of Communism to
Militant Islam.

Any wonder the LEFTY/COMMIES
are going crazy.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Oct 25, 06:21:00 PM:

Rob S, thank you for your civil tone and attempts at persuasion, though I do not agree. As I wander through the blogosphere, I can't express loudly enough how grateful I am for that.

The only weakness I see in your argument is in its time limitation. If the US liberation of Iraq results in a miserable chronic civil war for 35 years with death occurring at the same rate, then the suggestion that the US has done them no favors is perhaps -- perhaps -- warranted. But if Tigerhawk's analysis is correct, and the civilian casualties at Coalition hands were front-loaded, then this situation would have to persist for many decades to be an equivalent to the Ba'athist depradations.

I will note in passing that separating out civilian deaths from combatant deaths in a guerrilla/terrorist situation is necessarily inexact.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Oct 25, 08:40:00 PM:

AVI:

On the inexact science of separating civilians from non-combatants in a counterinsurgency: I noted with interest that more than 80% of IBC's civilian casualties were men. This seems quite at odds with the proportion one might expect if all the reported civilian dead were in fact non-combatants. Then again, there are at least two obvious explanations for this possibility. The first is that many of the casualties may have come from attacks that targeted civilians lining up for jobs with the new government, including in the police and army. They would, of course, be disproportionately men. The second explanation is that both sides give women the benefit of the doubt and so are less likely to shoot first and ask questions later.

Remember, though, that most of the casualties since May 1, 2003 have been inflicted by Iraqis, not Coalition soldiers -- since at least elements of the insurgency have shown no mercy toward women, I believe that the first explanation is the most likely.  

By Anonymous timeswatch, at Wed Oct 26, 05:02:00 PM:

The Times ran a credulous story this morning based on the Iraq Body Count numbers, ignoring the group's left-wing lean and creepy statements from their July report, which referred to the terrorists who kill Iraqi civilians with car bombs as "unknown agents," innocuously defined by the IBC as "those who do not attack obvious military/strategic or occupation-related targets."

http://www.timeswatch.org/twarticles/2005/20051026.asp  

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