Of Iraqi Death Toll
No Longer An Option
By Les Roberts &
23 September, 2007
Ignorance of Iraqi death toll
no longer an option.
Not wanting to think about
civilian deaths in Iraq has become almost universal. The average American
believed approximately 9,900 Iraqis had died as a result of the war
according to a February 2007 AP poll. Unfortunately, recent evidence
suggests that things in Iraq may be one-hundred times worse than Americans
News report tallies suggest some 75,000 Iraqis have died since the US-led
invasion. A study of 13 war affected countries presented at a recent
Harvard conference found over 80% of violent deaths in conflicts go
unreported by the press and governments. City officials in the Iraqi
city of Najaf were recently quoted on Middle East Online stating that
40,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in that city since the start
of the conflict. When speaking to the Rotarians in a speech covered
on C-SPAN on September 5th, H.E. Samir Sumaida?ie, the Iraqi Ambassador
to the US , stated that there were 500,000 new widows in Iraq . The
Baker-Hamilton Commission similarly found that the Pentagon under-counted
violent incidents by a factor of 10. Finally, a week ago the respected
British polling firm ORB released the results of a poll estimating that
22% of households had lost a member to violence during the occupation
of Iraq, equating to 1.2 million deaths. This finding roughly verifies
a less precisely worded BBC poll last February that reported 17% of
Iraqis had a household member who was a victim of violence.
There are now two polls and three scientific surveys all suggesting
the official figures and media-based estimates in Iraq have missed 70-95%
of all deaths. The evidence suggests that the extent of under-reporting
by the media is only increasing with time.
Being forthright about the human cost of the war, perhaps over a million
deaths to date, is in our long-term interests. How can military and
civilian leadership comment intelligently about security trends in Iraq,
or if any security policies are working, if they are not detecting most
of the 5000+ violent deaths that occur per week? Can American plans
for the future of Iraq be respected within Iraq if they do not openly
address the toll that they imply? Avoiding the issue of Iraqi deaths
will likely come back to haunt us as young people in the Middle East
grow up with ingrained hostility toward America.
In the Zimmerman Telegram, Barbara Tuchman describes the resentment
in Japan over the 1913 California Alien Land Law designed to prevent
Japanese immigrants from buying land. This resentment almost enabled
Germany to persuade Japan to attack the US during WWI and probably helped
set the stage for it happening a quarter century later. We cannot yet
tell what consequences will arise from our invasion of Iraq . Ignoring
the consequences of our actions, or striking a tone of belligerence
rather than contrition, will not build long-term relationships we need
in the Middle East . Established methods for estimating deaths exist,
even in times of war. Discussion of trends and policy effects based
on meaningful and validated measures such as median income and death
rates would make our leaders more accountable and leave us better informed.
Deliberately ignoring the numbers of dead Iraqis is not an option worthy
of the United States , or in our enlightened self-interest.
Gilbert Burnham is a MD and
Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health.
Les Roberts is an Associate
Professor at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health
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