Counting The Dead In Iraq

Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker on Wednesday at the "Securing the Common Good" event at Georgetown University. It is my opinion that his keynote address was one of the more remarkable and significant political speeches of recent times. In his speech, President Clinton laid out the difference between political philosophy and political ideology:

There is a big difference between a philosophy and an ideology, on the right or the left.  If you have a philosophy, it generally pushes you in a certain direction or another, but like all philosophers, you want to engage in discussion and argument.  You are open to evidence, to new learning, and you are certainly open to debate the practical applications of your philosophy.  Therefore, you might wind up making a principled agreement with someone with a different philosophy. 

The problem with ideology is, if you’ve got an ideology, you’ve already got your mind made up.  You know all the answers, and that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time, so you tend to govern by assertion and attack.  The problem with that is: that discourages thinking and gives you bad results. 

This new Bob Woodward book, State of Denial, is well named, but I think it’s important to point out that if you’re an ideologue, denial is an essential part of your political being – whichever side.  If you’re an ideologue, you’ve got your mind made up, so when an inconvenient fact pops up, you have to be in denial.  It has to be a less significant fact.

Ron Suskind wrote a related book called The One Percent Doctrine.  I don’t know if any of you read that.  He also co-wrote former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s memoirs.  But the most interesting thing to me in this One Percent Doctrine is not the part that people have talked about, about 9/11.  I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but Mr. Suskind says in The One Percent Doctrine that the ideologues within the current government refer to people not just like me, although I’m included, but even moderate Republicans like Colin Powell and Admiral Scowcroft as somehow lesser political mortals, because we are trapped in, quote, “the reality-based world.”  And what they mean by that – in fairness to them, what they mean by that is that we are an empire, we’re the world’s only military superpower, and you can use power to change reality.  And if you don’t see that, then you will always be condemning your country to a lesser status.

When I was a kid, I grew up in an alcoholic home.  I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world, and I like it here. 

In one remarkable passage, Bill Clinton summed up the fundamental failure of the Bush Administration. In one remarkable passage, Bill Clinton turned Mr. Bush’s perceived strength – his "steadfastness" – on its head and exposed it for the weakness that it is. Denial is central to Mr. Bush’s ideology.

Ideology and denial have informed Mr. Bush’s foreign policy – most notably his policy in Iraq. All bad news from Iraq has been ignored because it did not fit Mr. Bush’s reality. So, when researchers from the Johns Hopkins University released a study of Iraqi deaths in the current issue of the peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, Mr. Bush dismissed its results as "just not credible." The study found that 654,965 Iraqis have died as a result of the 2003 invasion. In addition to Mr. Bush, a number of observers have called into question the death toll in the study’s findings as being too high. The study has become a political tool in the context of the upcoming elections – with the pro-war diehards dismissing the death toll as "not credible" and the anti-war crowd hailing it as validation of the ills of this war. However, the study is not a political document, it is a scientific document – and the science is sound.

The Johns Hopkins study used a methodology that has been used to measure death tolls in other modern conflicts. According to a news release by the study’s authors:

The mortality survey used well-established and scientifically proven methods for measuring mortality and disease in populations. These same survey methods were used to measure mortality during conflicts in the Congo, Kosovo, Sudan and other regions.

Previous studies that used the same methodology, such as the Congo death toll study of 2000, were hailed as authoritative. The Congo study found that the death toll in 2 years had been at least 1.7 million. The epedimiologist who supervised the Congo study, Dr. Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins University, is also one of the authors of the current Iraq study. After the Congo study, Dr. Roberts asked the UN and the US agencies to look over the study:

When he finished his survey, Mr. Roberts asked the United Nations relief assistance coordinator for the area and a representative of the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the region to look over his findings. They thought that he might have been conservative, Mr. Roberts recounted.

The current Iraq study based on the same methodology is facing a decidedly more polarized audience.

Although the study’s findings are significantly higher than other estimates based on counting known fatalities arriving at hospitals and morgues, the current study’s findings are in line with a 2004 study of deaths in Iraq conducted by the same team. More significantly, the trend in the study showing that the death rate has been increasing over time is consistent with both the Iraq Body Count numbers and the US military’s own study.


Mortality Rates

In a study released by the Pentagon in August 2006 entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq", the Iraqi "casualty" count between January 2004 and August 2006 is given at just over 50,000. These numbers are based on  "casualty" numbers that are "derived from unverified initial reports submitted by Coalition elements responding to an incident". The study warns that these numbers should be used for "comparative purposes" only. The study also does not break down the number between injured and killed and only refers to "casualties". Given that the US military (and the coalition) does not control much territory in Iraq, it is a safe assumption that the numbers of incidents the Coalition responds to is a small fraction of the total number of violent incidents in Iraq. Even so, the upward trend in the violence, especially in the past year, is startling and tells an ominous story.


Daily Casualites

The Pentagon study paints a gloomy picture of the security situation in Iraq. It also notes that conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq:

During this reporting period, attacks and civilian casualties have risen, characterized by ethno-sectarian attacks and reprisals. Violence escalated notably in Baghdad, which, as the political, population, and media center of the country, is a high-value target for terrorists.

Sustained ethno-sectarian violence is the greatest threat to security and stability in Iraq. Breaking this cycle of violence is the most pressing immediate goal of Coalition and Iraqi operations. Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months.

The Pentagon study also claims that most of the violence in Iraq occurs in Baghdad and a few surrounding provinces, most notably, al Anbar province:


Pentagon Study: Death Toll by Province


However, the reporting in the Pentagon study is likely skewed in favor of provinces where the US military has more of a presence, namely Baghdad and al Anbar provinces. The Johns Hopkins study provides a startlingly different picture of the distribution of violence in Iraq.


Johns Hopkins Study: Deaths by Province

According to the Johns Hopkins study, four provinces (Anbar, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Diyala) have a higher death rate than does Baghdad. Also, five other provinces (Basrah, Missan, Qadissiya, Kerbala, and Tameem) have death rates in the same category as Baghdad. Therefore, there are ten provinces in Iraq where the death rate is similar or greater than that of Baghdad. That is a stunning statistic and demonstrates that violence has now spread to 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces and is no longer isolated to the "Sunni Triangle". By contrast, the Pentagon study claims that nearly 90% of the violence is contained within four provinces (Baghdad, Anbar, Salah al-Din and Diyala). Again, it appears that the Pentagon’s view of the violence in Iraq is limited by where it has boots on the ground. Thus, it appears very likely that the Pentagon is vastly undercounting the actual violence in Iraq.

There are also other startling internal numbers in the Johns Hopkins study. Most notably, since the 2003 invasion, child mortality rates in Iraq have more than quadrupled and nearly 40% of all children under the age of 15 have died due to violence, about half of whom have died due to Coalition airstrikes.

Whether one accepts the aggregate finding of the Johns Hopkins study, it seems quite clear that the study validates trends in the death rates that other observers have noted. It is also quite clear that the scientific approach of the study gives a more accurate picture of the violence in Iraq than what the US military is able to see from its limited on the ground presence. As a scientific work, the Johns Hopkins study is not so easily dismissed.

The Iraq War has always been on the intersection of a bad ideology and bad intelligence. It continues to be so. Mr. Bush’s ideology causes him to dismiss the findings of studies such as the one from Johns Hopkins which contradict his preconceived notion of reality.  On the other hand, reports that rely on limited information, such as the Pentagon report, are closer to Mr. Bush’s vision of "reality" and serves to validate his world view. Even so, the latest Pentagon report is very pessimistic and Mr. Bush will find it very difficult to continue ignoring the reality of Iraq.  Mr. Bush will soon have to enter the reality-based world and he may find that he doesn’t like it here.

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15 Responses to Counting The Dead In Iraq

  1. dude says:

    hey lookie, i’m first to comment again, thats the advantage from being half a planet away…

    clinton, in my opinion, is probably one of the most significant statesman of this generation. it boggles the mind what he could have done if his besmirched laundry was left to his besmirched private self. i mean, he simply comes across as an intelligent thinking man, with some great insight into global politics.

    i think the presidency was the worst place for him, he seems to be blossoming as a global statesman, the oft rumoured UN Sec Gen position we were hearing in nyc would have been a waste of a dynamic mind.

    ok, clinton fanboy aside, hearing of yet another set of bombings and deaths in yet another insurgent attack in yet another province makes me wonder why the US population thought knocking the hornets nest off the tree and jumping up and down on it repeatedly was a remotely good idea.

    if iraq wasn’t a hotbed of extremist and the T people before, it is now a manufacturing plant of mass produced global discontent.

    if i was iraqi, i would be massively pissed, and wondering whose head to try and kick in.

    on the other hand, if the subsidiary goal was to get all the disgruntled misguided angry at the west away from afghanistan members of the muslim global community, then they sure as hell met their goal.

  2. Mash says:

    Hmm…so you are suggesting that Bush’s grand plan was to get the terrorists away from Afghanistan and into Iraq? :d

    Now that we have got them just where we want them, its time to give them the keys to the oil pipeline! 😮

  3. Robbie says:

    This reminds me why I wish we didn’t have term limits. Can you imagine what the world would be like if President Clinton still called 1600 Pennsylvania home?

    President Bush isn’t the only person living in another world. Sean Hannity had that same problem last night when he talked about “95%” of Escondido residents in favor of the illegal alien rental ban ordinance.

    This country deserves better. I can only hope its citizens are smart enough to make the right choice in 18 days.

  4. dude says:

    [m.] the preview doesn’t always work in the hinterlands with slow as spokes connection…

    so, ahrm ahrm, this is purely the truth, but, the ways i sees it,the terrorists have had control of the oil pipelines these 50+ years anyway, so the other lot doing so in iraq will just mean competition… they can duke it out via car bombs etc… and don’t think the administration is smart enough to do the turn out the lights so the roaches go to iraq thing, though that is what has happened. see, when you exterminate roaches, you gotta do the entire building, tenting style, not one hosue only, they run to the houses next door then..

    r.: like carter, clinton makes a better expresident than a in office one. seems to me he can go about saying more or less what he thinks, without huge repercussions. also seems his hands arent tied… i always found him to be eloquent, much more so now then before. now, nobody cares whose what he’s getting where.

  5. Ingrid says:

    I could not link to this so I did the ‘ol’ cut and paste and then link.. Differentiating ideology and philosophy put it in much more clear context for me. Now when I talk to someone who seems to be stuck in their outlook, I’ll think ‘ideologue’ or ‘philosopher’..(as Clinton pointed out, on either side of the fence)..I like to think I’m the latter,

  6. Aunty Ism says:

    Mash, I’m having trouble posting, so I hope this doesn’t come through twice:
    Thanks, Mash. This is the best presentation of this info I’ve read so far. It presents the data and supports the conclusion that Bush is unable to process reality-based information.
    Have you seen the video that the Guardian produced?,,1927660,00.html

    It explodes the myth around the claims that the Iraqis are preparing to take control of their own country.” It takes about 15 minutes. My friend who served in Viet Nam in the 60’s told me that the South were reluctant to fight. Why should they take risks when we were there to do it for them?

  7. Aunty Ism says:

    I am a US citizen, and live in Oz now. Could we be neighbours? I am about an hour north of the hinterlands.

  8. dude says:

    heh aunty ism, ok, realising now there might actually be a place “called” the hinterlands, i have to foolishly admit that i was using the term in the generic sense. but i am a few thousand of miles to your left, a bit north..:d

    i think overseas folks are having trouble getting thru, i used to keep on having to copy text before i treid to submit, and took 3-4 goes sometimes. a.i., am finding it easier to login and doing it that way. i think once you are logged in, you are already in thw wordpress system, so don;t get knocked off. still can’t see preview all the time…

  9. doro says:

    Mash, thanks for this excellent post.

    Your ananlysis reminds me of a lot of “leaders”/kings/politicians who, after a while in office are so very out of touch with reality.

    Part is, they don’t get to hear all the necessary info because non of the staff wants to end up as the shot messenger. Part is, they are simply not interested in anything else but themselves and their personal opinions (which is IMHO what qualifies a person to enter politics in the first place).

    On the other hand most of the “leaders”/kings/politicians I’m thinking of are not living in a world of mass media, where heaps of info are at your fingertips. Where TV permeates the lives of people in a way no medium has before and even a president cannot escape that. Misinformation by staff can therefore be ruled out, that leaves not wanting to know or not being able to grasp the facts.

    When my husband used to grumble about “lying Bill” I used to tell him “there may be a day, when you will miss him” He does now, of course. Who doesn’t?

  10. Aunty Ism says:

    dude, Thanks for the follow up. I was hoping to connect with another Aussie. If the US falls, we will have to scramble for cover, and I don’t have many like-minded connections here.

    doro, yes, I, too, pine for the days when there was an intelligent and reasonable resident living at 1600. Charm and wit make the corruption more tolerable. I’m no Clintonite, but I’d have him back. But not her.

  11. heathlander says:

    Not all this Clinton-luvvin again…The problem is systemic. It’s not just with the Bush administration, and it won’t go away if the Democrats do as well as expected and it was present during the Clinton years as much as it was during the Reagan/Bush I/virtually everyone else years.

    As to the Lancet report: yes, I think it really is a sad indictment of our society that so many people are unwilling to take responsibility for the mess we’ve caused. As Media Lens put it:

    “How do we judge the health of a free society? How do we distinguish the appearance of democracy from the reality?

    There are no hard and fast rules, no scientific methodologies. But as a rule of thumb it is safe to suggest that we can learn much from a society’s willingness to address the humanitarian crimes for which it is responsible.

    In a totalitarian society, we would expect such a discussion to be absent in any meaningful sense. But in a genuinely free society, we would expect a thorough, detailed and unrestrained debate. Although this second expectation is itself based on an important assumption: namely, that individual freedom implies moral concern, a sense of responsibility for the suffering of others. We assume that to be a free human being means, also, to be free from the bonds of selfishness and indifference.”

    Good post Mash, and I recommend to everyone reading the Media Lens alert linked to above in full.

  12. Mash says:

    Auntie and doro, thanks. I thought the Johns Hopkins study needed a fair hearing.

    Heathlander, I can’t help the Clinton worship. :”>

  13. doro says:

    Hi Mash,

    maybe us girls still suffer from slight crushes as far as Clinton is concerned.:d

  14. dude says:

    haa haa. as a matter of fact, from a leadership/communicator point of view, both clinton and kennedy had similar effect on men and women. while some ahrm ahrm current leaders have effect only on sheep, and goats, 2 and 4 legged kinds, reagan was also known to be a very effective communicator. oddly, jesse jackson, saw him in senegal once, also has this “presence” that impact people, not voters apparently.

    clinton fan boying aside, he was well liked by eurpean, arab, and many asian leaders (though i recall he was in oxford or cambridge at same time as bBhuto and rGandhi i think). why is this all relevant? well, when you do unpopular things globally, but have the presence of mind not to sound like a complete wanker/twit to boot, makes it a lot palatable for folks. there is something about current leadership that just makes you want to laugh, even if they tell you your hairs on fire.

    charm and charisma go a looong way in leadership, both social and political.:)>-

  15. Mash says:

    Aunty, I almost forgot. To avoid the spam check and comment easier, I added optional registration (at dude’s urging). To register go here. Once you register, to login go here.

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