Highly touted increase in U.S. troops impetus for surge in civilian casualties
While the Pentagon and White House, as well as many in Congress declare the “surge” in Iraq a success, little is said about the fact that as many as 24,000 Iraqi civilians died in 2007, representing the second highest casualty figure since the invasion in 2003.
Most of the dead were from areas outside of the capital, Baghdad, where the surge has been concentrated, obscuring a drastic increase in violence in other parts of the country. While the surge has reduced high levels of sectarian deaths in the capital, there is a drastic increase in killings elsewhere.
The problem with representing the surge as a major success is that the overall picture of life in the country is obscured and the level of human tragedy minimized.
In comparing last year’s death toll with that of 9-11, Iraqi civilian casualties in 2007 were 800% higher. That does not include civilians injured and maimed for life, or the dead and wounded within the ranks of the U.S. military and its coalition partners. In 2007, there were close to 900 U.S. military deaths and 5,648 wounded. Forty-seven British soldiers were killed. Those figures hid another statistic: the number of soldiers evacuated from Iraq for treatment related to behavioral and psychiatric issues.
Some reports suggested that close to 1,000 soldiers from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated at the Army medical facilities at Landsthul in Germany. Most were from Iraq and fell into the category of victims of “mental trauma.”
The undeniable success of the troop surge in lowering U.S. casualties and reducing the chaos in Baghdad obscured another troubling aspect of the Iraq campaign in 2007: the U.S. military and “contractor” personnel killed over 600 civilians between June and November.
Among the dead were women and children. Twenty three children were killed by U.S. fire in October alone. In a U.S. raid near Lake Thar Thar, north of Tikrit, the birthplace of the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, 15 women and children died. One of the women was pregnant. When it comes to compensating the relatives of victims of what is euphemistically defined as “collateral damage in the war on terror,” the Pentagon and wealthy companies running private armies of “contractors” have been penny pinching.
Approximately $8,000 was paid by the Pentagon to two children who lost their mother when the taxi in which she was traveling came under fire. The vehicle was said to have run a checkpoint. The children were alongside their mother when she died and were also injured. A measly “condolence” payment of $500 was paid to the family of a deaf man shot outside a museum in Samarra and a larger condolence payment of $2,500 was granted to the parents of a 4-year-old girl who died when a bullet fired from a Humvee struck her.
In what the U.S. military said “negligent fire,” an Iraqi ambulance driver was shot dead on his way to a bomb scene by a coalition soldier. The dead man’s family was paid $2,500.
The most reliable figures for the death toll in Iraq are kept by Iraq Body Count (IBC), a non-profit agency that compiles its data from media reports that are authenticated, as well as hospital and morgue records, and material supplied by NGO’s and official Iraqi organizations. IBC never offers estimates of the numbers killed at any given time and reports only violent civilian deaths.
The agency was established by volunteers from Britain and the U.S. in 2003 to ensure that the civilian death toll was reflected in coverage of the war, following statements by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the occupation forces did not keep track of civilian casualties. IBC has not shirked from questioning reports by other sources, like the esteemed medical journal, Lancet, when it declared an estimate of 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. That raised skepticism within the IBC. While it accepted that more deaths occurred than were reported, it argued that the Lancet method of reaching such a high number did not stand up to serious scrutiny.
Nevertheless, IBC reckons that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since 2003. It pays little heed to the much heralded success of the surge by politicians such as presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Instead, it makes the following point: “For some 24,000 Iraqi civilians and their families, 2007 was a year of devastating and irreparable tragedy. The casualty figures show beyond any reasonable doubt that civil security in Iraq remains in a perilous state.”
From the perspective of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in charge of the surge, the rosy picture of Iraq presented by politicians on the presidential stump does not exactly square with his reading of the situation. While he stresses the need to build on what was accomplished in 2007, he warns that success cannot be compared to “flipping a light switch.” His suggests it would be unwise to think the battle is won and that the mission has been accomplished.
Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.
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