Juan Cole: The Real State of Iraq





[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

American television loves natural disasters. The Burmese cyclones that may have carried off as many as 200,000 people offered the cameras high drama.



The floods in Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri along the Mississippi River, which have wiped out thousands of homes, have been carefully detailed hour by hour.



But American television is little interested in the massive disaster blithely visited upon Iraq by Washington. Oh, there is the occasional human interest story. Angelina Jolie's visit sparked a headline or two. Briefly.



By now, summer of 2008, excess deaths from violence in Iraq since March of 2003 must be at least a million. This conclusion can be reached more than one way. There is not much controversy about it in the scientific community. Some 310,000 of those were probably killed by US troops or by the US Air Force, with the bulk dying in bombing raids by US fighter jets and helicopter gunships on densely populated city and town quarters.

In absolute numbers, that would be like bombing to death everyone in Pittsburgh, Pa. Or Cincinnati, Oh.

Only, the US is 11 times more populous than Iraq, so 310,000 Iraqi corpses would equal 3.4 million dead Americans. So proportionally it would be like firebombing to death everyone in Chicago.

The one million number includes not just war-related deaths but all killings beyond what you would have expected from the 2000-2002 baseline. That is, if tribal feuds got out of hand and killed a lot of people because the Baath police were demobilized or disarmed and so no longer intervened, those deaths go into the mix. All the Sunnis killed in the north of Hilla Province (the 'triangle of death') when Shiite clans displaced from the area by Saddam came back up to reclaim their farms would be included. The kidnap victims killed when the ransom did not arrive in time would be included. And, of course, the sectarian, ethnic and militia violence, even if Iraqi on Iraqi, would count. And it hasn't been just hot spots like Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk. The rate of excess violent death has been pretty standard across Arab Iraq.

As for the Iraqis killed by Americans, like the 24 civilians in Haditha, the survivors are not going to be pro-American any time soon. The US can always find politicians to come out and say nice things on a visit to the Rose Garden. But the people. I don't think the people are saying nice things in Arabic behind our backs.

The wars of Iraq-- the Iran-Iraq War, the repressions of the Kurds and the Shiites, the Gulf War, and the American Calamity, may have left behind as many as 3 million widows. Having lost their family's breadwinner, many are destitute.

Although it is very good news that the number of Iraqis killed in political violence fell in May to 532 according to official sources, the number was twice that in March and April. And,it should be remembered that independent observers have busted the Pentagon for grossly under-reporting attacks and casualties. If someone shows up dead and they aren't sure exactly why, it isn't counted as political violence, just as an ordinary murder. Attacks per day are measured by whether the mortar shell scratches any US equipment when it explodes. If not, it didn't happen. McClatchy estimated a year and a half ago that attacks were being underestimated by a factor of 10.

By the way, isn't is a little odd that the death rate fell in the month of the Great Mosul Campaign? I conclude that either it can't have been much of a campaign or someone is cooking the death statistics.

But over 500 a month dead in political violence is appalling enough. The Srebenica massacre in 1995 killed 8,000. At the average rate of death in Iraq this winter and spring, a similar massacre will have been racked up in 2008. In the Northern Ireland troubles over 30 years, about 3,000 people died, and it was widely considered a bad situation. That death toll is still being achieved every 6 months in Iraq according to the official May statistics.

And, of course, by the rule of 11,that death toll would be like nearly 6,000 Americans dying in political violence every month, or 72,000 a year. (Note that this 72,000 figure would only be political deaths, since it does not include criminal homicides). The annual total murder rate in the US is about 16,000, including political violence, what little there is. The US is one of the most violent societies on earth, and Iraq in May makes it look like a pacifist convention.

In these situations, typically 3 persons are wounded for every one killed. In Iraq, I suspect it is higher, because US bombings and guerrilla bombings are such a big part of the violence. But let us be conservative.

That would mean 3 million Iraqi wounded in the past five years.



Equivalent to 33 million Americans wounded, that is, the entire state of California crippled or in bandages.

As for the displaced (i.e. homeless), they amount to a startling 5 million persons. There were 1.8 million internally displaced in January of 2007, and by December it had risen to 2.4 million. There are 2.3 million externally displaced, 2 million of them in Jordan and Syria.



In fact 5 million displaced persons is almost the entire population of nearby countries such as Jordan or Israel! 5 million is about the number of Jews in Israel, for instance. In absolute numbers, that is how many Iraqis are living in some other country or some other province, having lost their homes.

Some 1.4 million Iraqis are stuck in Syria, many becoming increasingly penniless. Another 500,000 to 800,000 have been displaced to Jordan, which has now closed its borders to them. Please read this excellent piece of reporting, which points out that the US has done diddly squat for these millions of people upon whom it has visited a world class catastrophe, neither allotting meaningful amounts of aid nor admitting more than a token number as immigrants. Sweden has admitted 40,000 Iraqis, nearly 4 times what the US even plans to. Please write the Senate and the Congress and demand that something be done for these, our victims.

40% of Iraq's middle class is outside the country.

Very few of the refugees abroad have returned, only a few thousand. Only 12% of the returnees say they are going back because they think it is safe now, according to UN border polls.

The refusal of the refugees to return makes me suspicious of the good news stories about security improvements in Iraq. There is an Arabic proverb that"The people of a house know best what is in the house."

2 Shiite brothers who returned home to Baquba an hour northeast of Baghdad were just kidnapped and killed by Sunnis.

5 million displaced Iraqis would be like 55 million displaced Americans, or the equivalent of everybody in California and New York combined

American commentators peculiarly lack a social dimension to their analyses. So if PM Nuri al-Maliki sends some troops up to Mosul and the guerrillas there lie low for a while, that is"progress" and"good news." Well, maybe it is, I don't know.

I do know that the apocalypse that the United States has unleashed upon Iraq is among the greatest catastrophes to befall any country in the past 50 years. It is a much worse disaster over time than the Burmese cyclone or the Mississippi floods.

You won't see it on television very much these days.

Even if it gets better, it won't get better very fast for all those millions wounded, widowed, orphaned, and displaced; as for the 1 million dead, as they say in Arabic, God have mercy on them (Allah yarhamhum). Maybe it will get better sooner for the politicians in the Green Zone. They are the sort of people that the think tanks in Washington seem to care about.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Saturday:


' Baghdad

- Around 1 p.m. a bomb planted in the car of the office manager of the Iraqi minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research exploded in Al Tobchi neighborhood injuring three including the minister's office manager.

- Around 4 p.m. a bomb planted in a civilian car exploded in Al Nidhal Street injuring two Iraqi employees of a local LG Company branch.

- Around 5 p.m. a bomb planted in a police vehicle exploded in Al Andalus square injuring two policemen.

- Police found two dead bodies throughout Baghdad; one in Al Baladiyat, one in Mansour.

Diyala

- Police found the bodies of two brothers, Ali and Mohamed Zaid, in Al Tahrir neighborhood in Baquba . . .

Kirkuk

- Around 8 a.m. a car exploded in central Kirkuk injuring the two passengers in the car. Police said they suspect the two passengers were planning a car bomb attack. The two suspects are under investigation, police said.'


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John Olerud - 7/1/2008

I looked at the sources the author cited and found this nice quote in one of those sources that put the million death toll in a different perspective than the author gives. This quote was pertaining to a figure of 654,000, “This stunning toll was more than 10 times the number of deaths estimated by the Iraqi or U.S. governments, or by any human-rights group." Now I've read a lot of perspectives, but I always discount statistical outliers like those that are "10 times the number of deaths estimated by the Iraqi or U.S. government, or by any human-rights group." The Iraqi government and human rights groups don't have any incentive to underestimate.

This Sunday I watched a C-Span crew in Iraq interviewing American soldiers in the field. You can watch the piece on C-Span's website. The Marines said that relations in Anbar between Americans and Iraqis were never better, and progress in the last year was made in "leaps and bounds." How could Iraqis stomach the site of Americans with a million person death toll in a country of 27 1/2 million? I'll take the C-Span video evidence and the ten times less estimates of the Iraqi government and human rights organizations.


Nancy REYES - 6/23/2008

so your solution is to let those who killed most of the civilians?

And you didn't compare numbers versus pre war figures...but never mind...a million dead in the Iranian war aren't being discussed.

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