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Iraqi Civilian Deaths Mount -- And Count

By Derrick Z. Jackson

19 December, 2005
Boston Globe

President Bush actually acknowledged that Iraqi civilians died in his war. ''I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," Bush said to a questioner this week in Philadelphia.

Up until now in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush denied as much annihilation as possible. General Tommy Franks said, ''We don't do body counts" and Navy Captain Frank Thorp said, ''We cannot look at combat as a scorecard." Even as news organizations cobbled together credible numbers of Iraqi civilians killed by US forces, the head of statistics of the Iraqi health ministry said she was told to stop counting civilian casualties under pressure from the health minister and Bush's Coalition Provisional Authority. The authority and the health minister denied the suppression, but the same ministry had issued preliminary numbers months earlier.

In April 2004, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was asked about the images on Iraqi television of civilians being killed in Fallujah by American forces. His answer was, ''Change the channel. Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station." In light of recent revelations, one has to wonder if he meant for Iraqis to change to one of those Iraqi media outlets paid off by Pentagon contractors to print sugar-frosted stories of the invasion.

In the United States, there was no channel to change. Iraqi civilians became invisible the moment Americans were wrongfully convinced by administration rhetoric to connect Saddam Hussein and the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to the fears spawned by Sept. 11, 2001. They remained so inconsequential that just last March, a full two years after the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted to Pentagon employees, ''Through an unprecedented combination of speed, precision and flexibility, US forces, with coalition support, seized Baghdad, having marched farther and faster than any armed force in military history. And they did it while avoiding large numbers of civilian casualties."

That shows you exactly how small an everyday Iraqi has been all along in Rumsfeld's mind. As early as June 2003, the Associated Press estimated 3,240 civilians were killed in the invasion nationwide, 1,900 in Baghdad. By October of 2003, the Cambridge-based Project on Defense Alternatives estimated up to 4,300 in the first month alone. By November, Medact, the British affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, estimated up to 9,600 civilians.

If 3,000, 4,000 or nearly 10,000 dead civilians does not impress Rumsfeld as ''large," then nothing will.

That gets us to the 30,000 figure. The moment Bush uttered it, the White House and Pentagon backed away from it. Spokesmen said their boss was just citing public estimates. Iraq Body Count, a volunteer research group that compiles conservative estimates based on media reports, estimates that between 27,383 and 30,892 civilians have died. Since the media cannot be everywhere, many people say it is possible that many thousands more may have died. The most controversial estimate of 100,000 was published by researchers in the medical journal Lancet.

Perhaps Bush feels safe to talk about civilian deaths because the United States is no longer responsible for the majority of them. In the first six weeks of the invasion, according to calculations by Iraq Body Count, US-led forces were responsible for 94 percent of the 7,299 civilian deaths. Today, as the invasion/occupation remains riddled with suicide bombings, flickers of a civil war and general lawlessness, the percentage of civilians killed by the US forces has receded to 32 percent.

Perhaps Bush felt that the passing of time erased the fact that the US killings -- under his false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction -- remain the most intense of the war. US forces killed an average of 315 Iraqi civilians a day, nine times more than the worst month of anti-occupation and criminal violence during the next 23 months, according to Iraq Body Count.

Whatever Bush felt, he still shows no emotion for the men, women, and children who will never enjoy his liberation. He stated the 30,000 figure and went on to the next question. He claims to take responsibility for going to war on bad intelligence, then turns around and says in Philadelphia, ''Knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again."

That illustrates just how far Iraq has removed Bush from his own humanity. Without evidence of weapons, he would still order a war that kills thousands of innocent people. Bush now admits knowing the scorecard. But it still remains only a game.

Derrick Z. Jackson was a 2001 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and a winner of commentary awards from the National Education Writers Association and the Unity Awards in Media from Lincoln University in Missouri. A Globe columnist since 1988, Jackson is a five-time winner and 10-time finalist for political and sports commentary from the National Association of Black Journalists. He is a three-time winner of the Sword of Hope commentary award from the New England Division of the American Cancer Society. Prior to joining the Globe, Jackson won several awards at Newsday, including the 1985 Columbia University Meyer Berger Award for coverage of New York City.

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