Media Silence About the Carnage in Iraq: Killing 10,000 Iraqis Every Month
By MICHAEL SCHWARTZ
A state-of-the-art research study published in October 12, 2006 issue of The Lancet (the most prestigious British medical journal) concluded that–as of a year ago–600,000 Iraqis had died violently due to the war in Iraq. That is, the Iraqi death rate for the first 39 months of the war was just about 15,000 per month.
That wasn’t the worst of it, because the death rate was increasing precipitously, and during the first half of 2006 the monthly rate was approximately 30,000 per month, a rate that no doubt has increased further during the ferocious fighting associated with the current American surge.
The U.S. and British governments quickly dismissed these results as “methodologically flawed,” even though the researchers used standard procedures for measuring mortality in war and disaster zones. (They visited a random set of homes and asked the residents if anyone in their household had died in the last few years, recording the details, and inspecting death certificates in the vast majority of cases.) The two belligerent governments offered no concrete reasons for rejecting the study’s findings, and they ignored the fact that they had sponsored identical studies (conducted by some of the same researchers) in other disaster areas, including Darfur and Kosovo. The reasons for this rejection were, however, clear enough: the results were simply too devastating for the culpable governments to acknowledge. (Secretly the British government later admitted that it was “a tried and tested way to measuring mortality in conflict zones”; but it has never publicly admitted its validity).
Reputable researchers have accepted the Lancet study’s results as valid with virtually no dissent. Juan Cole, the most visible American Middle East scholar, summarized it in a particularly vivid comment: “the US misadventure in Iraq is responsible [in a little over three years] for setting off the killing of twice as many civilians as Saddam managed to polish off in 25 years.”
Despite the scholarly consensus, the governments’ denials have been quite effective from a public education point of view, and the few news items that mention the Lancet stody bracket it with official rebuttals. One BBC report, for example, mentioned the figure in an article headlined “Huge Rise in Iraqi Death Tolls,” and quoted at length from President Bush’s public rebuttal, in which he said that the methodology was “pretty well discredited,” adding that “six-hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at is just… it’s not credible.” As a consequence of this sort of coverage, most Americans probably believe that Bush’s December 2005 figure of 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths (less than 10% of the actual total) is the best estimate of Iraqi deaths up to that time.
COUNTING HOW MANY IRAQIS THE OCCUPATION HAS KILLED
These shocking statistics are made all the more horrific when we realize that among the 600,000 or so victims of Iraqi war violence, the largest portion have been killed by the American military, not by carbombings or death squads, or violent criminals–or even all these groups combined.
The Lancet interviewers asked their Iraqi respondents how their loved ones died and who was responsible. The families were very good at the cause of death, telling the reporters that over half (56%) were due to gunshots, with an eighth due each to car bombs(13%), air strikes (13%) and other ordinance (14%). Only 4% were due to unknown causes.
The families were not as good at identifying who was responsible. Although they knew, for example, that air strike victims were killed by the occupation, and that carbomb victims were killed by insurgents, the gunshot and ordinance fatalities often occurred in firefights or in circumstances with no witnesses. Many times, therefore, they could not tell for sure who was responsible. Only were certain, and the interviewers did not record the responsible party if “households had any uncertainly” as to who fired the death shot.
The results are nevertheless staggering for those of us who read the American press: for the deaths that the victims families knew for sure who the perpetrator was, U.S. forces (or their “Coalition of the Willing” allies) were responsible for 56%. That is, we can be very confident that the Coalition had killed at least 180,000 Iraqis by the middle of 2006. Moreover, we have every reason to believe that the U.S. is responsible for its pro rata share (or more) of the unattributed deaths. That means that the U.S. and its allies may well have killed upwards of 330,000 Iraqis by the middle of 2006.
The remainder can be attributed to the insurgents, criminals, and to Iraqi forces. And let’s be very clear here: car bombs, the one source that was most easy for victims’ families to identify, was responsible for 13% of the deaths, about 80,000 people, or about 2000 per month. This is horrendous, but it is far less than half of the confirmed American total, and less than a quarter of the probable American total.
Even if we work with the lower, confirmed, figured of 180,000 Iraqi deaths caused by the occupation firepower, which yields an average of just over 5,000 Iraqis killed every month by U.S. forces and our allies since the beginning of the war. And we have to remember that the rate of fatalities was twice as high in 2006 as the overall average, meaning that the American average in 2006 was well over 10,000 per month, or something over 300 Iraqis every day, including Sundays. With the surge that began in 2007, the current figure is likely even higher.
HOW COME WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THIS?
These figures sound impossible to most Americans. Certainly 300 Iraqis killed by Americans each day would be headline news, over and over again. And yet, the electronic and print media simply do not tell us that the U.S. is killing all these people. We hear plenty about car bombers and death squads, but little about Americans killing Iraqis, except the occasional terrorist, and the even more occasional atrocity story.
How, then, is the US accomplishing this carnage, and why is it not newsworthy? The answer lies in another amazing statistic: this one released by the U.S. military and reported by the highly respectable Brookings Institution: for the past four years, the American military sends out something over 1000 patrols each day into hostile neighborhoods, looking to capture or kill insurgents and terrorists. (Since February, the number has increased to nearly 5,000 patrols a day, if we include the Iraqi troops participating in the American surge.)
These thousands of patrols regularly turn into thousands of Iraqi deaths because these patrols are not the “walk in the sun” that they appear to be in our mind’s eye. Actually, as independent journalist Nir Rosen described vividly and agonizingly in his indispensable book, In the Belly of the Green Bird, they involve a kind of energetic brutality that is only occasionally reported by an embedded American mainstream journalist.
This brutality is all very logical, once we understand the purpose and process of these patrols. American soldiers and marines are sent into hostile communities where virtually the entire population is supports the insurgency. They often have a list of suspects’ addresses; and their job is to interrorgate or arrest or kill the suspect; and search the house for incriminating evidence, particularly arms and ammunition, but also literature, video equipment, and other items that the insurgency depends upon for its political and military activities. When they don’t have lists of suspects, they conduct “house-to-house” searches, looking for suspicious behavior, individuals or evidence.
In this context, any fighting age man is not just a suspect, but a potentially lethal adversary. Our soldiers are told not to take any chances: in many instances, for example, knocking on doors could invite gunshots through the doors. Their instructions are therefore to use the element of surprise whenever the situation appears to be dangerous”to break down doors, shoot at anything suspicious, and throw grenades into rooms or homes where there is any chance of resistance. If they encounter tangible resistance, they can call in artillery and/or air power rather than try to invade a building.
Here is how two Iraqi civilians described these patrols to Asia Times reporter Pepe Escobar:
“Hussein and Hasan confirm that the Americans usually come at night, sometimes by day, always protected by helicopters.’ They “sometimes bomb houses, sometimes arrest people, sometimes throw missiles'”
If they encounter no resistance, these patrols can track down 30 or so suspects, or inspect several dozen homes, in a days work. That is, our 1000 or so patrols can invade 30,000 homes in a single day. But if an IED explodes under their Humvee or a sniper shoots at them from nearby, then their job is transformed into finding, capturing, or killing the perpetrator of the attack. Iraqi insurgents often set off IEDs and invite these firefights, in order to stall the patrols prevent the soldiers from forcibly entering 30 or so homes, violently accosting their residents, and perhaps beating, arresting, or simply humiliating the residents.
Read the rest here.