Thursday, October 12, 2006



Pyramid of skulls

Two years ago, a team of epidemiologists at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath in Baltimore published a study in the Lancet estimating that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq had led to approximately one hundred thousand excess deaths. While the study caused a storm of outrage among supporters of the war, its methodology and conclusions were generally regarded as robust and repeatable. The authors of the study have now done exactly that, repeating their sampling with a greater number of clusters. Their midpoint estimate for the number of excess deaths is now 655,000.

Six hundred and fifty-five thousand - that's 2.5% of the Iraqi population, dead due to America's war. Even the bottom of the confidence interval - 392,979 - is thirteen times higher than Bush's estimate of 30,000 dead, and more than twice as high as the estimated 182,000 killed in Saddam's Al-Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds, for which he is currently on trial. What does that suggest about the eventual fate of the architects of this obscene occupation?

(I am steadfastly Not Thinking about the top of the confidence interval. It doesn't top a million, but its certainly within reach).

Thanks to George Bush, 500 more Iraqis are dying a day than died under Saddam. 92% of them are dying due to violence, and 31% of those deaths are directly attributable to US forces. The rest is mostly gunshot wounds, car bombs, and other explosions (the researchers don't seem to have included a category for death squads). 500 a day. Maybe someone should start piling the skulls on the White House lawn?

For a war that was supposedly waged to help the Iraqi people, this has done precisely the opposite. "First, do no harm" is a basic principle of medicine. Maybe we should think about making it a principle of foreign policy too.

45 comments:

Freedom is untidy . . . Stuff happens.

Donald Rumsfeld
Remarks to Reporters
12/04/2006

You know, I'm asked all the time -- I'll ask myself a question. How do I respond to -- it's an old trick -- how do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America? I'll tell you how I respond: I'm amazed. I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us. I am, I am -- like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are.

President George W Bush
Whitehouse Press Conference
11/10/2001

You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs

Josef Stalin

If there's a faint silver lining to this stormcloud it's the sick amusement to be derived from watching the blogosphere squeal that Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet aren't credible sources.

Posted by danyl : 10/12/2006 07:21:00 AM

While I remain entirely skeptical that over 500 people per day have died since April 2003, I won't dimiss this outright, but do have some questions. Firstly, it would be interesting to see a breakdown of ths into numbers of combatants/civilians killed by US/Aligned troops, and victims of Sectarian violence. It seems uncontestable that most victims in Iraq currently are victims of Sunni/Shia infighting. Are we really at the stage where we say that Saddam Hussein was justified in his repressions because of the murderous tensions unleashed by the dismantling of his security apparatus? One cannot have it both ways - one is better, either the Iraq of today, or the Iraq of Saddam. I believe the former is better. Are people here happy to say aloud that they consider that Iraq under Saddam preferable to the current situation? If not - what IS better? Criticism without providing alternatives is the easiest thing in the world.

Beyond that, would you care to elaborate Idiot/Savant on what a 'do no harm' foreign policy would look like? Would it be the same as a 'do nothing' foreign policy? The UN has indeed done nothing over the 2-3 million killed in Sudan. We did nothing in Rwanda. We did too little, too late in Kosovo? How would you propose a foreign policy in dealing with Sudan, besides hoping the UN will somehow talk Khatorum out of its deliberate policy of genocidal cleansing of the Black African population? Will you still be pinning your hopes on the UN if the world lets another 2 million Sudanese die?

You spend a lot of your time in various denunciations of moral outrages, Idiot, but you signally fail to provide alternative courses of action. This is surely one of the easiest hypocrises, and one of the more contemptable.

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 08:16:00 AM

Given that I'm sure that the methodology of this will receive a lot of attention, here is a response defending (broadly, at least), the study, from the wonderful Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. I hope my posting this is permitted, I guess...

The Lancet Study
by hilzoy

As many of you probably know the Lancet has come out with a study which found this:


"We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire."

This is, of course, horrible. Unfortunately, I do not have time to write a long post about this. However, having skimmed some of the reaction to this study, a few notes.

First, it's worth bearing in mind that very few bloggers are statisticians. Some are, and their views of the previous Lancet study are worth rereading. I have taken courses in biostatistics and epidemiology, and the studies do not seem to me to have any major problems beyond those noted in the article itself, nor do those problems invalidate the results.

The people who did this study, however, are public health professionals at one of the best schools of public health in the country. Statistical studies of population health and mortality are one of the main things that public health researchers do. Biostatistics is not ancillary to their field, as it is to mine; it is a central part of it. These people are very serious experts.

This does not mean, of course, that their work cannot be challenged. Experts are not infallible. It does mean, however, that one should be aware that one is challenging the work of people who are very, very good at what they do. (Note: I do not know any of the people who wrote the study, though I have met one of the statisticians they consulted. He's very good.)

Second, as people kept saying over and over in response to the last study, the fact that these results are higher than those provided by Iraq Body Count is no surprise. The two use completely different methods. Iraq Body Count relies on "online media reports from recognized sources." Are all deaths reported by "online media reports from recognized sources"? Of course not. This study, by contrast, visits a representative sample of households and asks about deaths. They asked for death certificates 87% of the time; when they asked, they saw death certificates in 92% of the cases.

When you go out and look for deaths, you are likely to find more of them than when you wait for people to report them and then count the reports. Specifically, you are likely to catch all the unreported deaths. (In this case, "unreported" means "unreported by the media.")

Anyone who says that the discrepancy between the Lancet study's figures and any figures derived from IBC or any other group that relies on reported deaths shows, by that very fact, that they have no clue what they are talking about.

Third, about the idea that the timing of this is politically motivated: that in no way impugns the accuracy if the study. Moreover, if I had done a study like this, I would want to get it out before the election too. Information like this, if valid, is exactly the sort of information that people should have in order to make an informed decision about who to vote for. If anyone wants to show that the study's conclusions are false, they should do so. But saying that the fact that it was released now shows that they aren't valid is just wrong.


I certainly remain a cynic, but do accept that this is a major study of the situation.

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 08:43:00 AM

You can count, but do you want to know what the numbers mean?

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 08:56:00 AM

The first problem with Iraq Body Count and it's reliance on news articles would seem to me to be that it does not take into account reports of wounded people dying after the news article has been published.

If a suicide bomber kills fifteen people and wounds sixty then IBC increases their count by fifteen. But if another thirty people die from their wounds over the next month (and given the reports of poor healthcare and inavailabilty of power and clean drinking water across the country, not to mention death squads operating in the hospitals this doesn't seem unrealistic) then the IBC number is going to be totally wrong.

Posted by danyl : 10/12/2006 09:02:00 AM

As someone who supported the war this is extremely depressing. Overthrowing Saddam seemed to at the time the right thing sto do, just like I supported regime change in South Africa - even eith the use of violence, and teh use of force to stop Melosevic and the Taliban

But now it does appear that it would have been better to allow Saddam to stay in power. That's also depressing. I still think that the chances of Saddam regime ending in a civil war were high but maybe to come in once it had started would have been a better option if one can call it that.

Still, if blame is to aportioned than it must start with Saddam - no Saddam no war.

Posted by Neil Morrison : 10/12/2006 09:34:00 AM

neil, i disagree whole-heartedly. but i think you mean, "no saddam, no gulf-war 1", which i would agree with.

the second war was manufactured and spurious, in a lame effort to appear to be doing something in the war on terror.

it was a folly. a stupid, irresponsible folly.

i can understand your justification for wanting to see hussein removed, i agree with that need. but an invasion in pursuit of something that never existed was not the means to do so.

we are watching the unfolding of the end of the United States as a beacon of hope, and sole reason for that is the blind willingness of smart people to follow a band of fools into a deliberate fight that is resulting in the mutilation, torture, and death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. the very same people the war was supposed to be saving.

history will judge this US administration very, very harshly.

Posted by che tibby : 10/12/2006 10:26:00 AM

Well then, Che Tibby, if Saddam needed to be removed and invasion was not the way to do it, would you care to elaborate on what was? I would also say that if history judges America harshly on Iraq, how will it judge the world on its failure to stop the bloodshed in Sudan?

As for there being no weapons of mass destruction, most, including Blix, strongly and justifiably suspected there were. Given the amount of obfiscation the UN inspectors had to deal with, that seems an reasonable suspicion, to put it mildly.

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 10:46:00 AM

i reread my post, and it sounds a little like a troll...

but, let's go not go over the old ground of the justification for war. if you still need convincing that we were sold a lie on this, then there is no point talking.

i wasn't meaning to attack neil, rather point out that trying to shift blame for the situation in iraq to anything but the invasion is a cop out. there is only one reason for this situation, the invasion.

as for sudan.... another tragedy. i also think the governments of Zimbabwe, Burma, China, North Korea, Zaire, need to be replaced with liberal democracy.

but tens of thousands of trigger-happy teenagers with a colonial-god-complex isn't going to achieve it.

Posted by che tibby : 10/12/2006 11:04:00 AM

I didn't think you did sound like a troll, but you've avoided answering my question - which puzzles me. You say that you "agree with the need" to remove Saddam, but not with his removal. Likewise, you assert that liberal democracy needs to be spread in Sudan etc, but then refuse to say how. This seems almost a parody of trying to have one's cake and eat it; a position both convenient and hypocritical. As for a Shiite-Sunni civil war as being the fault of the US, please. One using that logic would blame the Yugoslavia conflict firmly on the break-up of Communism. Whither the agency and moral autonomy of those who strap bombs to themselves and blow them up in mosques and merketplaces. I blame the US for many deaths in Iraq; but I certainly do not blame it for all, and short of accepting the continuous presence of the most repressive police-state conditions and repressions in Iraq, few can stop those who choose to murder women and children on account of their religious/ethnic identity.

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 11:29:00 AM

123, sure,let me clarify.

i have no idea how to spread democracy in the countries we both agree need it. no idea at all.

although, not bombing or filling them with soldiers would be a nice start. who takes up the political frameworks of their enemies, yes?

stating that i disagree with something, and not being able to change that thing is not a hypocritical position.

and, in case you have forgotten... the war in the former yugoslavia did occur because of the break-up. a power vacuum was filled by extremists, as is happening in iraq.

Posted by che tibby : 10/12/2006 11:46:00 AM

I take your point che. I was never one who supported the war on the basis of WMD, rather of ending a dictatorship. The war was oversold on the basis of WMD and in some instances deceptively so. For that the Bush admin should be condemned. That plus making grievous errors in the post overthrow period.

But I still believe no Saddam = no second Gulf war. If he had been removed by any internal methods then the US would not have invaded. The US is not, in recent years at least, in the habit of invading countries. Saddam did not have a WMD programme because that had been destroyed by the US and Britain but he was biding his time to start again. He was an ongoing problem.

So blame for the war goes to Saddam, blame for the fuckups afterwards goes to Bush. I would also put some of the responsibility on those carrying out the present sectarian violence. There really is no excuse for blowing up the UN, Mosques and killing teachers.

All alternatives to the problem of Saddam other than the invasion would have had their costs. But it's hard to imagine that any would cost as much as 650,000 lives. An outbreak of some level of sectarian violence looks to have been inevitable. After all there were already two civil wars going on under Saddam - with the Kurds and with the Shiites.

Any alternative would have been a waiting game and a gamble. He was pretty secure and he looked to have plenty of time to cause trouble. So I'm at a loss for solutions.

Looking back, my support for the war was (wrongly) influenced by the relatively quick success of military action against Milosevic and the Taliban, where the international community had been paralyzed by uncertainty for many years but when action was taken the results were quick (yes, the Taliban are still a threat but not so much as they were). So it was wrong to extrapolate from those two events to Iraq, although it did look like it would follow a similar course in the immediate post-invasion period.

But this has all happened. It's now an issue of how the international community can influence the civil war now occurring and what lessons there are to be learnt since as you say there is still a list of countries whose regimes need to be changed one or another.

Posted by Neil Morrison : 10/12/2006 11:58:00 AM

"i have no idea how to spread democracy in the countries we both agree need it."

I don't think that democratic countries should even try. That's not to say I want undemocratic countries, just that I think that interfering in other countries' internal structure seems to cause terrible problems.

I want to see democracy spread, but not in such a violent and hopeless fashion as we have seen in Iraq and Afganistan. It needs to come from a consensus process originating from within the specific state itself.

Gradual internal change is by far the better route then violent clashes.

Posted by muerk : 10/12/2006 12:07:00 PM

I appreciate your clarification 'Che Tibby'; but in the case of a country like Sudan it is precisely because it is NOT "bombed and filled with soldiers" as you put it, that its government-sponsored militias have been able to kill, rape, and displace with impunity. Supporting military intervention there does not mean one necessarily supports it in the case of Burma or North Korea. Yet, lest we forget, it took NATO intervention to -finally - defend Muslim civilians in Kosovo. In New York, where I make my home, representatives of the Sudanese government still comes and go in ornate luxury from the UN building whilst nothing is done about that very government's ongoing campaign of genocide. I remain convinced that underaction by the international community remains as great a moral crime - and a far more frequent one - than overaction by the likes of the US. The iraqi population have a democratically elected government and a belief in a brighter future (if you believe the BBC polling). All the black Sudanese have is the terrible promise of more of the same. If these are the respective indictments of two courses of action, give me the former, any time.

As for your point about the break-up of Communism and what you see as its causal connection to the ensuing Balkan civil wars, I would caution you that the 'stability' card is the one most often played by Totalitarian regimes, from the Soviet Empire, to Indonesia with Timor, to China now, to all those who would have us believe that a strong and powerful presence is required to stop State X descending into civil strife. If you accept that one must blame Serb nationalism and NOT the breakup of Communism for the Balkan wars of the 1990s, then it would seem consistent to blame Sunni/Shiite fundamentalism for the current civil strife/war in Iraq, and not the US toppling of Saddam.

Because surely to do otherwise would be to say that Saddam was necessary to keep Iraq from just this strife; and that is an argument that can be recycled indefinitely - to China's rule over Tibet for example...

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 12:18:00 PM

Neil wrote...
But I still believe no Saddam = no second Gulf war. If he had been removed by any internal methods then the US would not have invaded.

I find that very hard to believe.

You seem to accept that the US didn't really invade Iraq to capture WMD, equally they didn't really invade Iraq to prevent terrorism, equally they didn't invade to remove Saddam. All three are pretexts for the real reasons: force projection and control of oil.

If there had been some other leader in Iraq, the US would have still invaded. Except, I guess, in the case that the leaders of whatever coup overthrow Saddam immediately invited the US to build bases in Iraq. Of course, they'd almost certainly want to invade at some point in the future anyway --- after all the Americans supported the '63 Baathist coup, although they may have less enthusiastic about the '68 coup (IIRC the Soviets supported that).

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 12:37:00 PM

Neil Morrison: The so-called “Bush Doctrine” of “extending democracy, liberty, and security to all regions" via unilateral application of overwhelming force and pre-emptive (i.e. unprovoked and aggressive) war is probably the most poorly thought out and dangerous piece of destabilising rubbish the world has seen since the aggressive hubris of the Fascist dictatorships in the 1930’s. The Bush Doctrine in itself constitutes a war crime, as the waging of aggressive pre-emptive war is clearly a violation of the Nuremberg principles. The very idea that by applying lawless violence one can achieve democracy, liberty and security is so dopey and oxymoronic that one is constantly startled by the stupidity of the people who dreamed it up and the people who support it.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the stark consequences – in Iraq, in Iran, in South Lebanon, in North Korea – of this disastrously foolish piece of thinking should be completely obvious by now. The blame for the second Gulf war lies squarely with the Bush administration.

Further, there is a clear difference between the exceptionalist unilateralism pursued by the United States and the gradualism you characterise as “paralysis” in the actions over Kosovo and Afghanistan. War must be the action of last resort. Liberal democracies must take every step and explore every avenue open to them before they resort to collective military action. To do otherwise is to betray the values we declare justify military intervention in others affairs.

Finally, the hypocrisy of a unilateralist doctrine that proposes the overthrow of one set of dictators (Saddam, the Iranian Mullahs) whilst propping up equally barbaric monsters (Islam Karimov) saps the moral certainty of the liberal democracies. The cynical reaction to George W. Bush’s statements over North Korea is demonstrates that replacing the fragile institutions of international law and diplomacy with a high handed, impatient and arrogant application of the law of the jungle has weakened the ability of the world to deal with all the other Saddams out there.

There is no way out in Iraq that is satisfactory. Evil will beget evil. All that we can hope for is an early U.S. pullout, and that from the ashes of the subsequent civil war and most likely partition of the rump Iraq (A brutal and possibly genocidal Turkish invasion of Kurdistan is the next thing to look forward to folks) something can be salvaged by heads wiser than the Bush-Cheney cabal. Honestly, this current U.S. leadership richly deserve to spend their declining years rotting in jail, but like Stalin they will probably get to die in their beds.

Posted by Sanctuary : 10/12/2006 01:12:00 PM

Muerk: I don't think that democratic countries should even try.

I do - but I think it has to be done by convincing people. Democratic culture grows from the bottom up, and takes generations to establish itself. It cannot be done overnight by bombing and killing people.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/12/2006 01:15:00 PM

Just scanning the comments at the top I think it's worth clarifying:

This isn't just people directly killed in the war, this is the before and after overall mortality rates. Including health and whatever.

If you like, a measure of how much less sympathetic to human life Iraq is now.

Posted by Lyndon : 10/12/2006 01:26:00 PM

Anon, no I don't accept any of the three points you list. I do believe that the US invaded to get rid of WMD, it's just that there weren't any - much to the surprise of some who even opposed the war. I do believe that the US invaded to ensure that no WMDs would fall into the hands of terrorists. And finally I do believe that the US invaded to topple Saddam - I would have thought that at least was uncontroversial. It was a folly of idealism rather than an exercise in realism.

I did say I thought the WMD argument was oversold plus had an element of deception, but I do believe that it had some merit.

The other often overlooked reason for the war was to get US troops out of Saudi Arabia - that was a real source of tension in the Muslim world - and that would happen only when Saddam was no longer a threat to Saudi Arabia.

As for oil, the US had no need to control Iraq to get oil; they could, and did, just buy it. That oil was already controlled under the UN sanctions anyway.

To take up 123's comparison of Yugoslavia and Iraq, both were countries whose borders included people of different religions and ethnicities with historical grievances that were held together through authoritarian oppression. The fault of those borders goes back through history but, as with some African countries, once the artificial binding of dictatorship starts to unravel the clear danger is of sectarian conflict.

The fault of the West with Yugoslavia was to wait three years before intervening and the fault of the US in Iraq was not to plan for this eventuality. I'm not sure that whatever planning they did would have made a difference, it's possible but given the deep seated animosities between the sides some level of conflict was inevitable. I think maybe it would have been better to let Saddam's regime collapse and then intervene to stop the ensuing civil war. That might not have been a great idea either.

On the general topic of how to influence tyrannies to move towards democracy then it's a the platitude - carots and sticks - is true. The problem is then deciding in each instance what mixture to use. But one thing to keep in mind is that they are being used against people who are by definion untrustworthy, ruthless, and likely to make it very difficult to get international agreement on any course of action.

Posted by Neil Morrison : 10/12/2006 01:35:00 PM

Lyndon: yes, its excess mortality. At the same time, it is worth noting that 92% of those excess deaths - 601,000 are attributable to violence, and that poor health etc due to the occupation accounts for a very small number of the dead. And regardless of the cause of death, it is all directly attributable to the Bush Administration, without whose invasion and (more importantly) ongoing occupation Iraq would not be inthis sorry state of affairs.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/12/2006 01:39:00 PM

neil said...
I do believe that the US invaded to get rid of WMD, it's just that there weren't any - much to the surprise of some who even opposed the war.

You have a very selective memory then. Many people believed that Saddam had no WMD of consequence (including UN weapon inspectors, for example), and people like Colin Powell also stated prior to 2001 that they believed Iraq had no WMD. Remember, this was a key justification for imposing economic sanctions on Iraq --- the sanctions were supposedly preventing Iraq from acquiring WMD.

Sure, Saddam might have had pretensions to re-acquiring WMD, but that's entirely different to actually owning any.

And finally I do believe that the US invaded to topple Saddam - I would have thought that at least was uncontroversial...

Yes, it was an intended/likely consquence of invasion that Saddam would be overthrown. This can hardly be a strong reason for invasion however. It's not enough on its on. There are plenty of regimes as bad or worse that the US doesn't invade.

The other often overlooked reason for the war was to get US troops out of Saudi Arabia - that was a real source of tension in the Muslim world - and that would happen only when Saddam was no longer a threat to Saudi Arabia.

Of course, the main reason that American troops in Saudi Arabia is a problem for the Muslim world is that assorted holy sites, like Mecca, happen to be in Saudi Arabia. Iraq similarly has holy sites, like Najaf and Karbala. So transferring US troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq isn't really helping in that regard.

As for oil, the US had no need to control Iraq to get oil; they could, and did, just buy it. That oil was already controlled under the UN sanctions anyway.

This is missing the point. The point is that the US doesn't want others to have the resource, not that it actually needs the resource itself. The others being China, Europe, and Russia. In this respect, I imagine the Americans are actually quite happy. No-one can access the oil in Iraq properly, and any supplies sourced from the Middle-East are questionable.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/12/2006 03:02:00 PM

I must say I'm surpised even here at the speed this number has gone from extrapolated estimation to being treated as stone-cold fact. I accept the possibility that it may be accurate, but the more I read of it, the more doubt there is: not least that the number was arrived at from a partially documented casualty list of 547 deaths. So we've extrapolated at over a thousand for each claimed casualty. The fact that the editor of the Lancet has shared stages with george galloway in anti-war protests dosn't exactly fill me with confidence either. And neither does the fact that the previousl study was challenged and is now seldom used because of its perceived inaccuracies.

And as for this civil war being America's fault - partially it is, but only partially, and very partially at that. try all you like Idiot, but demanding does not make it so. There is still much violence in East Timor - is that the fault of the UN for brokering Timor's independence? How can A be culpable but not B? You morality is - at best - highly selective.

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 03:25:00 PM

i kind of remember these exact same arguments being bandied around about the mortality of children under the economic sanctions imposed after gulf war 1.

back then people were also tyring all kinds of relativities and contortions to argue that they were not to blame for the misery of the civilian population.

strange how often victims can be blamed. very strange.

i seem to remember the same kind of blame approportioned to the vietnamese, i.e. if they wouldn't fight, we wouldn't have to kill them. and history has demonstrated conclusively the folly of that exercise.

good on you i/s, keep putting this stuff up for contestation. don't let the apologists get to you.

Posted by che tibby : 10/12/2006 04:56:00 PM

I'm afraid, Che Tibby, that I don't see the connection between your and my points here. You are saying? I don't recal blaming any victims - and feel free to show me if I'm wrong - but saying that the agency and moral culpability for those engaged in a civil conflict lies with those same people; ie - the perpetrators of Sunni/Shia violence. The moral balme for all and every civilian killed by the US lies with the US.

Again - I'm not quite sure where blaming the victims comes in here, but I look forward to hearing...

Posted by 123 : 10/12/2006 05:05:00 PM

> If there had been some other leader in Iraq, ... Baathist coup...

Note how (as far as i know) in those cases both the US AND the soviets did not send their army in.
The US's behaviour was not independant of the technicalities of the situation and without all sorts of things coming together the US would not have invaded.

Sanctury,

> Liberal democracies must take every step and explore every avenue open to them before they resort to collective military action.

And that is what, in my oppinion, ensures your eventual defeat.

Neil,
> I'm not sure that whatever planning they did would have made a difference

Their strategy was a massive error. On two fronts the first is that their soldiers are not trained to deal with peacekeeping (as per the recent book on the war that came out I think its called "farce" or somthing) the other front is they aimed to achieve somthing that was so easy to attack. blowing up ANYTHING suddenly became a defeat for the US. So everything was a victory for the insurgents and the US had no ability to claim victory.

>At the same time, it is worth noting that 92% of those excess deaths - 601,000 are attributable to violence

I/S
> 92%...

92% of the excess or 92% of the total new amount?

Anonymous,
> There are plenty of regimes as bad or worse that the US doesn't invade.

But not all of those countries are in breach of forceful UN resolutions and so forth. Iraq's situation was in a sense special.

123,
excess deaths are an interesting measure - if you compared helen clark with John howard for example you might find helen guilty of (does some quick maths) 90,000 excess deaths or so.

but compare helen with muldoon and you probably have helen coming out beter to the tune of a few tens of thousand excess deaths.

some of that might genuinely be their fault but we tend not to evaluate politicians that way (maybe we should?)

Posted by Genius : 10/12/2006 07:05:00 PM

Genius - what the hell? That post made no sense

Posted by George Darroch : 10/12/2006 07:35:00 PM

Oh yes, and there is a power in the Middle East that actually has nuclear weapons and is in breach of many UN resolutions. It receives extensive support from the US Government.

Posted by George Darroch : 10/12/2006 07:38:00 PM

Feel free to only read the part adressed to you.

Posted by Genius : 10/12/2006 08:41:00 PM

"I do - but I think it has to be done by convincing people."

Hmmm... Yes. I think I want democracy to be promoted for altruistic reasons not because it suits certain states to control the political situation of other countries.

I guess I think there's a difference between promoting democracy internationaly and tring to specifically control the demise of a nondemocratic leader.

Does that make sense?

Posted by muerk : 10/12/2006 10:41:00 PM

123, when the US invaded iraq it automatically assumed responsibility for the security of the civilian population.

you can argue all you want that the precursors for a civil war existed prior to the invasion, but that does not absolve the responsibility of the fools in the current administration to maintain security.

they have failed to do that. let's not forget that sectarian violence did not erupt immediately after the invasion. it has escalated over years of mis-management. years that saw the moral authority of the US undermined by falluja, abu grahib, and the international publication of the willingness of US to abduct and torture Muslims.

so while you may well place blame for sectarian deaths at the hands of those committing the acts, the circumstance in which they committed these crimes was created by a power that invaded their country, gave away its own moral authority, has been unable to provide any form of security whatsoever, and now attempts to absolve itself of the misery it has created.

what we have then is an iraq in which murder occurs constantly, because of a situation the US created, with the US blaming 'underlying sectarian tensions'.

victim blaming. even if the figure for deaths is a tenth of that the study states, not one of those individuals would have died had the US not invaded.

and before you say it, yes, i know people would have died had hussein remained in power. but that would have been his responsibility, and would have been an entirely different set of human beings, not merely 'a number'.

Posted by che tibby : 10/12/2006 11:14:00 PM

I find it quite interesting that those who are prepared to 'spread democracy by the sword' are often those quick to decry the spread of Islam by the sword...

I think you are quite right, 123, in your criticism of the global inaction, or selective action, in the face of ongoing human catastrophies. And the lack of alternative strategies is glaring, I think those who spend much time in a state of distress at the situation in Iraq (for example), which I include myself in, could spend a bit of energy on proposing alternatives. But I do blame America for more than the deaths their troops are directly responsible for. It was obvious this war had a lot to do with their interests, and little to do with wider security issues. But they did not prepare for it, and particularly the aftermath, and therefore set the scene for the resulting rather predictable civil war.

I think the situation in Iraq indicates that division is probably the best option. Iraq as it is does not appear it is meant to be. Break down and start to rebuild over time, let a natural course of events take place.

Posted by sid : 10/13/2006 08:18:00 AM

che, you say deaths under Saddam would be his repsonsibilty but I would say in this age where soveriegnty is no longer absolute those deaths are everyones' repsonsibilty. Indeed that form of global responsibilty has been always been characteristic of the Left.

Since there was the opportunity to get rid of Saddam, not doing so makes us complicit in his actions. It would be our responsibilty as well.

One could extent your argument of circumstance creation to agrue that since the international community could overthrow Saddam, not doing so creates the circumstances and so ultimate blame lies there.

I don't have any good solutions myself, it just seems that in this situation there weren't many options that didn't have a human and moral cost.

Posted by neil morrison : 10/13/2006 08:58:00 AM

neil, i don't disagree with you. but you can only take causation and agency so far.

but if living in little old new zealand has taught me anything? it is that while we may well desire better outcomes for humanity, whatever our political bent or application, there is only so much we can do. and that 'much' is very little.

i think the opportunity to get rid of saddam was lost in 1992. 2003 only laid in train the events and tragedy the US had wisely avoided at the end of first war.

partition the country. give the kurds their homeland. give the shiites to iran, and the sunnis to saudi arabia (or vice versa, whichever is right). it'll be india all over again.

Posted by che tibby : 10/13/2006 09:18:00 AM

Actually I partially agree with you Che Tibby, on the last post at least. Indeed America must assume some of the blame for gross mismanagement of the post-invasion situation - but that portion of the blame remains but small in comparison to the people doing the killing. There are no set of circumstances that justify or render unavoidable a civil war, pushing the blame beyond the participants and onto onto a broader historical or social canvas. In short - there is NO causal justification for driving a truck full of exlosives into a marketplace or taking people from their homes and shooting them in the head. Do you really think otherwise?

And as for the comments about upsetting Muslims, the utter hypocrisy of the Islamic world has again been demonstrated in latest outrage from the UN - yet another corrupt, abuser-packed human rights council. Given that many of the Islamic countries decrying America's presence in Iraq simultaneously block any efforts by the international community to address the genocide in Dafur (again via the UN), I refuse to listen to their concerns.

However, your point that had Saddam been killing civilians instead of us, we would cease to be morally culpable is idiotic and cretinous, I'm afraid, as Mr. Morrison points out. I must away, but will describe why this is so - if it isn't already obvious - when I've a minute...

Posted by 123 : 10/13/2006 09:49:00 AM

Sid: Indeed. I think it is inarguable that the huge majority of civilian deaths/War crimes/genocides in the world happen because of under-action, rather than over-action, from the international community. We seem to have a very selective morality about this (well summed up by Idiot's double-standards here) where doing nothing is far more morally acceptable than doing something. Hence we have an Iraqi body count number on this site, but no Sudanese one; because an iraqi civilian death is an outrage to many on the left, whereas a Sudanese civilian death is merely lamentable. There is no certain way of knowing which is the right course to take - yet, I remain convinced, that the more we do NOTHING over genocide in places like Sudan, then the easier it becomes for the next genocide or ethnic cleansing to occur. I maintain that it is as great a moral crime to do too little, as it is to do too much. And we have done too little, too late, far, far too often - as East Timor and Rwanda and so on should make clear...

Posted by 123 : 10/13/2006 10:04:00 AM

god bless the interweb.

if i don't reply he thinks he's won, if i do we end up have the same banal argument for days and days.

sometimes i think i've been arguing the same points since newsgroups started up...

neil, good talking to you.

Posted by che tibby : 10/13/2006 10:04:00 AM

Oh dear. I come back to my desk and look what I find. I'm not looking for victory, as you suggest, but if you can't respond beyond meaningless and vague denunciations like 'banal', I'm not going to be able to muster much respect for your debating ability or acumen. I can't remember having seen your name here, and can't remember arguing with you before. So whoever, you've been having this conversation with obviously dosn't include me, I'm afraid. You may be certain of your ideas beyond the 'banality' of having to formulate a defence for them. But I wouldn't be smug about this, myself.

Posted by 123 : 10/13/2006 10:23:00 AM

yes partitioning has had a bad history. Hopefully a loose federation will avoid bouts of ethnic cleaninsing.

The end of Gulf War 1 shows up the moral dilemmas involved in all of this. At the time the US did avoid what is happening now, but their motivations were 1) fear that getting rid of Saddam would benefit Iran (which is what has happened) - hardly a great moral stance, and 2) a weakened Saddam would probably fall - the Shi'ites in the south did rise up, only to be put down. Western encouragement of this wasn't backed up with assistance but that was the reasoning of the time - any overthrow of Saddam had to be internal. There was also an uprising in the North by the Kurds which was also put down. They didn't establish a safehaven till the northern no-fly zones were established in 1992.

So the US did go for the let the Iraqis deal with Saddam option and Saddam won. Should the US have gone in back then? Possibly, in hindsight. But then, given that did not happen, should we have waited for another uprising against Saddam rather than outside intervention? The events of 1991 and 1992 suggest Saddam had the ability to deal with such revolts. Which is why the Shi'ite leadership tacitly supported the invasion, the US troops became Sistani's catspaw.

Posted by Neil Morrison : 10/13/2006 10:29:00 AM

great discussion folks, but I would like to hear from any of the dead Iraqi's who have died for this freedom democracy, we have 123 and Neil defending the invasion still, but let's hear from any of those (what are the parameters of death now, 30 000 to 655 000) dead Iraqis who have died for this forced democracy. I love how the need to justify is so much more important than those numbing causality figures, as if they could be defended somehow if we all say together, ‘Saddam was bad, and he had to go’ (ignoring of course the support the West gave Saddam) if you don’t want monsters, how about not fund them to begin with. And why did the US support Iraq? Because Iraq attacked Iran, why did the US want to support an attack on Iran? Because the CIA installed Shar had been embarrassingly kicked out, and is there a bigger crime in the world than dumping your American puppet? No there isn’t But let’s avoid American Imperialism with a bit more discussion on the justification to get rid of Saddam, because American foreign policy hasn’t been warped by the military industrial complex has it folks. I love justifications. Remember the 60 minutes interview in 1996 when Madeline Albright was asked if the UN reported deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the draconian (my word, not theirs) US imposed sanctions was accurate. Remember what she said, “We’ve decided that it’s worth the cost” – why justify when you can be a master of the universe?

Posted by mr black : 10/13/2006 03:56:00 PM

Oh goodness. This seems to be the lot of internet discussion - trite comments from cretinous fools. I'll tell you what, Mr Black. I'll listen to the victims the US failed in Iraq if you'll listen to the victims we all failed in Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, East Timor, the Congo, and onward. And while you ponder that, I would mention that China is still killing Tibetans, dissidents, and Falun Gong practitioners, and Iran is killing its Arabs and Bahais. Pakistan still will not allow women to prosecute rape, Burma kills its dissidents, and the US executes juveniles and the mentally sub-normal. You want a better world? Start thinking how to change it, not how to leave it as it is.

Posted by 123 : 10/13/2006 04:54:00 PM

Why is partition such a problem? I would say that what is happening now in Iraq is already India all over again, i.e. the massive bloodshed that followed the removal of the artifical cohesive power (britain/saddam), which was ended after partition. Were not the problems in Yugoslavia solved by partition? Sure, there have been ongoing conflicts and wars, but people will continue to kill other people regardless of the geopolitical situation, that much is obvious. but I would rather the anger and whatever it is that drives sectarian violence is vented sporadically mainly through armies than in the bakeries and mosques of the community. Why is seeing a 'country' or 'state' being partitioned seen as a failure? Are we not at this point in the history of humanity because our political arrangements are continually changing as a result of changes in societies, religions, the global background, the climate and all sorts of other factors? I think it is perfectly normal for humnas to keep rearranging themsleves in search of stability as the environment (in its broadest sense) continues to change.

Posted by sid : 10/13/2006 11:14:00 PM

Sid - I would think considerations of partition should be seriously thought through. There are however, some serious dangers - one is that there would be sizable Sunni/Shia minorities in shia/sunni states if Iraq was partitioned along sectarian lines. Baghdad for instance is full of both shia and sunni. Would those in the minority of each state be safe if they remained? Or would this be an exercise in trying to create a Kurdish state and as much as possible, two mono-cultural sectarian ones? This, as you say, would seem a recipie for future conflict - whether this is better than the current situation, I don't know.

The other problem is of course Turkey's paranoia about a Kurdish state on its borders and the possibility (talked of in Washington, despite the US and Turkey's close relationship) of it engineering some crisis or confrontation as a pretext to invade.

Posted by 123 : 10/14/2006 02:41:00 AM

> I find it quite interesting that those who are prepared to 'spread democracy by the sword' are often those quick to decry the spread of Islam by the sword...

probably those people think that democracy is a good thing (which one might rightfully fight for) and islam is at best "not worth fighting over".

I guess we could all become nhilists and say that nothing is worth fighting for. But I dont have a hell of a lot of respect for those who would sit and watch a genocide and make some trivial argument about soverignty or whatever to explain why one race has to be exterminated.

besides now that the US has provided some limited support for various loose ends like osama and previously Sadam's reigeme - some might say it has more of a responsibility to clean it up - like if I let a theif into your house I might become more responsible for stopping it.

Maybe those like Gwyn Dyer who say "the resistance must win" should consider if they want to take responsibility for the resistance's future actions. (maybe they do - jsut saying they should be exposed to the same moral rules we expose the other side to)

I agree with sid a bit that partition might be the solution. I think irationally trying to hold together failed states (and maintain their soverignty) is one of hte core problems.

If turkey decided it did not like a kurdish state, at least you can negotiate with turkey.

Posted by Genius : 10/14/2006 09:17:00 AM

I/S - read this link. It contains fairly convincing analysis that suggests Lancet is wildly inflating the numbers. Their methodology must be wrong. And this is not by Bush apologists
http://www.iraqbodycount.org/press/pr14.php

Posted by sagenz : 10/17/2006 05:28:00 AM

Indeed - I've just read this too, and Iraq Body Count are not a stooge of the current admin. Now let's have a look at what they say...


Reality checks: some responses to the latest Lancet estimates
Hamit Dardagan, John Sloboda, and Josh Dougherty
Summary
A new study has been released by the Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in the Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that:

On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms;
Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.
If these assertions are true, they further imply:

incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;
bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.
In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.


If this is indeed the case, then the Lancet's credibility takes a massive blow. I wonder if idiot can bear to post on this side of the story....

Posted by 123 : 10/17/2006 10:29:00 AM