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Riverbend on the Lancet study of deaths
"So many different ways to die in Iraq"

November 3, 2006 | Page 9

AT THE beginning of October, the Bush administration was still repeating its "stay the course" slogan about Iraq, and accusing any Democratic critics of wanting to "cut and run." Now, the catchphrase in Washington is "exit strategy," and even George Bush himself has said that the U.S. may need a "new approach."

"October 2006 may be remembered," the Washington Post reported this week, "as the month that the U.S. experience in Iraq hit a tipping point, when the violence flared and shook both the military command in Iraq and the political establishment back in Washington."

The immediate catalyst for the political shift in U.S. ruling circles was an intensification of violence in Iraq, coinciding with the failure of a U.S. military operation to quell resistance in Baghdad. The block-to-block fighting in the Iraqi capital led to increased U.S. casualties and the third-highest monthly death toll for American troops since the invasion.

This comes in the wake of further revelations of the terrible toll that the U.S. war has inflicted on Iraqis. Above all, a Johns Hopkins research study published in the British medical journal The Lancet found that the number of war-related deaths in Iraq was far higher than any previous estimate--at least 655,000 "excess deaths" beyond the pre-invasion mortality rate in Iraq.

What else to read

"An Appeal for Redress," written by active-duty troops, can be read on its own Web site--military personnel are welcome to sign on. You can also visit the Different Drummer Café Web site for ongoing reporting on military resistance.

David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War, recently republished in a new edition by Haymarket Books, is a fascinating account of the resistance movement within the military that helped bring the Vietnam War to an end.

Riverbend's Baghdad Burning Internet blog is updated--when electricity supplies allow--with an eyewitness account of what life is like for ordinary Iraqis.

For an ongoing analysis of the situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East, read Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog. Articles by left-wing Iraq expert Michael Schwartz appear regularly on the Web site. Schwartz also sends out articles of interest on his IraqViews listserve--to subscribe, send an email to [email protected] with the message: "sub iraqviews-l".

For a book that provides the background to the U.S. war and occupation, get Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, a collection of essays edited by Anthony Arnove (with one by Socialist Worker columnist Sharon Smith) published in an updated edition after the invasion.


Here, we print comments on the Lancet study by RIVERBEND, a young Iraqi woman who has written an Internet blog called Baghdad Burning during the U.S. occupation.

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THIS HAS been the longest time I have been away from blogging. There were several reasons for my disappearance, the major one being the fact that every time I felt the urge to write about Iraq, about the situation, I'd be filled with a certain hopelessness that can't be put into words and that I suspect other Iraqis feel also.

It's very difficult at this point to connect to the Internet and try to read the articles written by so-called specialists and analysts and politicians. They write about and discuss Iraq as I might write about the Ivory Coast or Cambodia--with a detachment and lack of sentiment that, I suppose, is meant to be impartial.

Hearing American politicians is even worse. They fall between idiots like Bush, constantly and totally in denial, and opportunists who want to use the war and ensuing chaos to promote themselves.

The latest horror is the study published in the Lancet journal concluding that over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war.

Reading about it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it sounded like a reasonable figure. It wasn't at all surprising. On the other hand, I so wanted it to be wrong. But...who to believe? Who to believe...? American politicians...or highly reputable scientists using a reliable scientific survey technique?

The responses were typical--war supporters said the number was nonsense because, of course, who would want to admit that an action they so heartily supported led to the deaths of 600,000 people (even if they were just crazy Iraqis...)?

Admitting a number like that would be the equivalent of admitting they had endorsed, say, a tsunami, or an earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale, or the occupation of a developing country by a ruthless superpower...oh, wait, that one actually happened.

Is the number really that preposterous? Thousands of Iraqis are dying every month--that is undeniable. And yes, they are dying as a direct result of the war and occupation (very few of them are actually dying of bliss, as war supporters and puppets would have you believe).

For American politicians and military personnel, playing dumb and talking about numbers of bodies in morgues and official statistics, etc., seems to be the latest tactic. But as any Iraqi knows, not every death is being reported. As for getting reliable numbers from the Ministry of Health or any other official Iraqi institution, that's about as probable as getting a coherent, grammatically correct sentence from George Bush--especially after the ministry was banned from giving out correct mortality numbers.

So far, the only Iraqis I know pretending this number is outrageous are either out-of-touch Iraqis abroad who supported the war, or Iraqis inside of the country who are directly benefiting from the occupation ($) and likely living in the Green Zone.

The chaos and lack of proper facilities is resulting in people being buried without a trip to the morgue or the hospital. During American military attacks on cities like Samarra and Falluja, victims were buried in their gardens or in mass graves in football fields. Or has that been forgotten already?

We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first- or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons--with so many different ways to die, is the number so farfetched?

There are Iraqi women who have not shed their black mourning robes since 2003 because each time the end of the proper mourning period comes around, some other relative dies, and the countdown begins once again.

Let's pretend the 600,000+ number is all wrong and that the minimum is the correct number: nearly 400,000. Is that better? Prior to the war, the Bush administration kept claiming that Saddam killed 300,000 Iraqis over 24 years. After this latest report published in the Lancet, 300,000 is looking quite modest and tame. Congratulations Bush et al.

Everyone knows the "official numbers" about Iraqi deaths as a direct result of the war and occupation are far less than reality (yes, even you war hawks know this, in your minuscule heart of hearts). This latest report is probably closer to the truth than anything that's been published yet.

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