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by Amir Soltani Sheikoleslami

U.S. Ignored Car Bomb Deaths in Touting Drop in Iraq Violence

(PNS) -- President Bush has endorsed benchmarks for measuring the progress of the Iraq war, and all eyes are on General Petraeus' report due to Congress in September.

The benchmarks Americans care most about are the number of American fatalities and casualties in the war, followed by the toll on civilians and soldiers on the Iraqi side. Yet, given that war is always wrapped in deception and disinformation, nothing lends itself to greater obfuscation in the fog of war than the count of the dead and wounded. The numbers are tricky. So is their interpretation.

Let's start with the simple facts and figures.

According to the Defense Department's latest figures, the Iraq war accounts for almost 90 percent of total U.S. fatalities and 95 percent of casualties in the global war on terror. By contrast, the original war against terrorism in Afghanistan has become a minor sideshow, accounting for 10 percent of total U.S. fatalities and 5 percent of U.S. casualties. (May 16, 2007 Casualty Report)

March 19, 2007 marked the fourth anniversary of the Iraqi war. In its April 30 report, the Brookings Institution's Iraq index put the official count of U.S. fatalities from the war in Iraq at 3,342. But this count does not include fatalities among a private army of 120,000 subcontractors supporting U.S. military operations.

The figures about the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action (WIA) are also a subject of controversy. The numbers change depending on who defines, counts, reports and costs the wounded.

In its May 16 casualty report, the Defense Department puts the total number of soldiers wounded in the global war on terror (mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan) at 26,605. Of those, 25, 378 soldiers were wounded in Iraq, or roughly seven casualties per fatality.

Yet, the Department of Veterans Affairs cited the total number of non-mortal wounds in the global war on terror (Iraq and Afghanistan) at 50,508, or roughly 16 casualties per fatality. The VA's higher figures were adopted by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as well as by a landmark Harvard study by Linda Bilmes on the health care costs of the Iraq war.

The discrepancy between the Pentagon's definition of non-mortal wounds and the VA's higher count led the VA to revise its figure downward from 50,508 in September 2006 to 21,469 non-mortal wounds in November 2006. The Pentagon apparently does not include injuries and accidents from non-combat operations in its lower WIA count. In a matter of two months, 29,000 veterans, mostly from the Iraq war, vanished, presumably to align the VA's count with the Defense Department's tighter definition and classification of the wounded.

What happened to these 29,000 wounded soldiers? Were they healed in two months? Were their wounds less significant? Or are politicians financing the new Iraq plan by juggling the numbers to reduce the cost of Iraq veterans? Ultimately, the numbers become political. As Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and others have pointed out, confusion about definitions, standards and counts between bureaucracies can have massive medical, political, social and financial repercussions. Whoever is in charge of setting and verifying the benchmark for counting and costing wounds decides where the money and health coverage goes.

Even when the benchmarks are correct, the administration's interpretation of them can distort reality.

The Pentagon continues to divide U.S. fatalities in Iraq between those prior to May 1, 2003, the day President Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and those after May 1, 2003, called the post-combat operations phase. This division creates the illusion of progress. It suggests that major combat operations ended in 2003 and that everything afterwards is merely mopping up a messy insurgency. Yet, the numbers show that no progress has been made. The number of U.S. fatalities in April 2007 was comparable to the high combat figures for the same period in 2003. This means that the insurgency is inflicting the same toll on U.S. soldiers as the Iraqi army did at the height of combat four years ago.

The toll of the war on the Iraqi military and civilians dwarfs the U.S. figures.

The Brookings' April index puts the number of Iraqi soldiers and police killed at 6,547, or roughly double the number of U.S. fatalities. Of the total military fatalities in Iraq, 64 percent are Iraqi, 33 percent American, and 1.4 percent British.

As for the civilian toll, no one wants to know the numbers, let alone be held responsible for their consequences. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom publishes an official report on Iraqi civilian fatalities and casualties. As General Tommy Franks put it: "We don't do body counts." Citing concerns about bandwidth scarcity, the U.S. military has further limited the flow of information by blocking troops' access to YouTube and MySpace.

The Iraqi government is complicit in fudging the numbers. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office has prevented officials from releasing regular figures about the body count. Citing security, it recently expanded the communication freeze to journalists by banning them from providing immediate coverage of violent incidents.

When it comes to body counts, the media has played a crucial role in shedding light into the morgues.

By cross-checking fatality figures reported by accredited English-language news media, the Iraq Body Count (IBC), an anti-war group, has developed an extensive inventory of Iraqi civilian deaths. The IBC records the number of civilian deaths reported as of April 28, 2007 between 63,929 and 70,023 since the invasion (roughly equivalent to the civilian death toll at Nagasaki in World War II). The IBC numbers do not reflect the civilian toll from war-ravaged zones such as al-Anbar province where it is harder for the media to operate.

In another effort to establish benchmarks, the medical journal the Lancet has used statistical models to measure the civilian toll. Using shifts in pre- and post-invasion mortality rates, the Lancet published a study in October 2006 placing the number of violent civilian deaths at approximately 601,000, with roughly 200,000 (30 percent) of fatalities attributed to the U.S. coalition. Although President Bush and Prime Minister Blair dismissed the credibility of the science behind the Lancet study, Sir Roy Anderson, chief scientific advisor to the British Ministry of Defense, characterized the study's design as "robust."

Speaking last November, Ali al-Shemari, Iraq's health minister, told reporters that, "Since three and a half years, since the change of the Saddam regime, some people say we have 600,000 are killed. This is an exaggerated number. I think 150 [thousand] is okay." Later, he told the Associated Press that he had based his estimate on 100 civilian deaths per day, bringing the total figure down to 130,000. But the Washington Post reported that the head of Baghad's central morgue, Dr. Abdul-Razzaq al-Obaidi, pointed out that at his facility alone, he received 60 violent death victims per day in October, excluding those taken to hospital morgues or buried by relatives in the rest of Iraq.

Another credible figure about the toll comes from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). It reported 34,452 Iraqi civilians killed in 2006, an estimate disputed by the Iraqi government as too high.

Even when there is agreement about numbers, definitions are contested. In Iraq, the legal distinction between civilian, insurgent and combatant have all but collapsed. By labeling what would otherwise be counted as "civilians" as insurgents or infidels, armed groups dismiss and discount the rules of war to justify criminal assaults. Whether labeled insurgents (political outcasts), or infidels (religious outcasts), such forms of branding create the illusion that killing is quelling the violence, rather than exacerbating it.

Regardless of how they are labeled, 50 Iraqi civilian deaths per day, the lowest common denominator, is a certain count.

And with health care for civilians much worse than soldiers, one can use the U.S. benchmark to assume a minimum fatality-to-casualty ratio of one to five. For soldiers, it's one fatality to seven casualties.

Using these counts for the U.S. military, Iraqi military, and Iraqi civilian fatalities and casualties over time, we can come up with a general equation that establishes the standard price of every hour of the Iraq war.

1) As a rule of thumb, for every American soldier killed in Iraq, at least two Iraqi soldiers and 20 Iraqi civilians are killed, seven American soldiers are wounded, 14 Iraqi soldiers and 100 Iraqi civilians are wounded.

2) The minimum average daily toll of fatalities stands at about 60 deaths per day: two to three U.S. soldiers, four to six Iraqi soldiers, and 50 to 100 Iraqi civilians deaths per day.

3) The minimum average daily toll of casualties stands at about 300 per day: 14 to 21 U.S. soldiers, 28 to 42 Iraqi soldiers and 250 to 500 Iraqi civilians.

This daily toll converts into 2.5 fatalities and 12.5 casualties per hour, minimum.

However, these figures assume an American timeline that begins the count of the dead with the beginning of U.S. combat operations in 2003. Such an abridged western calendar distorts Iraqi reality. The war in Iraq is grafted on sectarian divisions: ancient counts of fatality etched in timelines that snake back for a millennium, and longer. No matter how or when one measures General Petraeus' progress, there is no way that Iraq, the ancient cradle and morgue of countless civilizations, can be glued back together again within the span of an electoral cycle.

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Albion Monitor   May 23, 2007   (

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