Let's Stop the War Now
Today, the war in Iraq is two years old and is already behaving like a two-year-old, notably demonstrating a destructive power beyond the control of those who gave birth to it. Regardless of unprecedented and largely successful efforts at “information management” by the U.S. Government, the reality is that the devastating consequences of U.S. policy in Iraq are not diminishing but are in fact continuing unabated. In the face of armed resistance and political pressure to minimize U.S. casualties, our government is clinging to a classic “divide and conquer” policy that is tearing apart the fabric of a multi-sectarian society in which different religious and secular groups have coexisted and intermarried for hundreds of years. The danger that this policy poses to the future of Iraq is self-evident.
I have been reviewing a number of studies that count the ongoing human cost of the invasion and occupation to the people of Iraq. The most comprehensive is the report by the Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that was published in The Lancet on November 20th 2004. It concludes, “Violent deaths were widespread … and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths.”
The body of the report makes it clear that the researchers made the most conservative assumptions in interpreting their results, completely excluding the city of Fallujah as an “outlier cluster” with much higher rates of violent death, and that total actual civilian deaths could quite possibly be more than 200,000. It should be noted that reports from the Iraqi Health Ministry support the study’s finding that U.S. air strikes are the principal cause of death among civilians in Iraq since the invasion.
In order to produce an accurate estimate while minimizing the danger to their survey teams, the Johns Hopkins researchers used statistical methods to extrapolate from regional “clusters” to the general population. An Iraqi group called the People’s Kifah took considerably greater risks in attempting a more complete survey of civilian deaths in September and October 2003. They mobilized hundreds of academics and volunteers, who “spoke and coordinated with grave-diggers across Iraq, obtained information from hospitals and spoke to thousands of witnesses who saw incidents in which Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. fire”. Unfortunately they were forced to abandon the project when one of their researchers, Ramzi Musa Ahmad, was seized by Kurdish militiamen, apparently handed over to U.S. forces, and never seen again. However, after only a month or two’s work, the People’s Kifah had already gathered details of more than 37,000 actual civilian deaths.
Another public health study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 1st 2004, found that 28% of troops in “ground combat units” of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and 14% of similar units in the 3rd Infantry Division reported personally “being responsible for the death of a non-combatant” during their first tours of duty in Iraq. The study was designed to be representative of all “ground combat units”, defined as 40% of active duty troops in theater, and thus implies that at least 10,000 civilians were killed by U.S. ground fire alone during the invasion and the first few months of occupation. The widespread killing of civilians has led many U.S. soldiers to question the nature of the war and their role in it. Units ordered to deploy for second tours in Iraq are experiencing high rates of Conscientious Objector applications from soldiers and junior officers, and these are generally being granted.
The continued military occupation of Iraq is illegal under international law, immoral under any conceivable moral code, destructive to the interests of Americans and Iraqis alike and corrosive to international peace and goodwill. International law requires the U.N. Security Council to implement a full restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, the withdrawal of occupation forces and appropriate aid and reparations. The people of the United States and the United Kingdom should insist that our governments cease military operations in Iraq immediately so that legitimate representatives of the Iraqi people and the international community can start the difficult work of putting the broken pieces of Iraqi society back together again.
Let’s stop the war now!