Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: ‘So many’, wrote TS Eliot, reflecting on the waste land left by the First World War. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”
This notion is unlikely to cross the minds of those surveying the devastation left by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The most frequently quoted fatality figure – about 115,000 Iraqis killed – is shocking. But compared to major conflicts of the past century, it is a relatively modest toll. The 1916 battle of the Somme alone killed three times as many. More than that were killed by a single atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.
Former British prime minster Tony Blair, and then-US vice president Dick Cheney, were perhaps conscious of this when they expressed “no regrets” on the 10th anniversary of the war last month.
That the perpetrators of an aggressive war should accept the lowest costs for their folly is unsurprising. What is less explicable is why so many supposed critics of the war are crediting the same estimate. Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Centre for American Progress’s Iraq War Ledger use it as their main source.
This is particularly puzzling when there are two peer-reviewed epidemiological surveys that give a far more comprehensive accounting of the war’s human cost. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Survey published in the Lancet, and the Iraq Public Health Survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine, gave figures of 655,000 and 400,000 excess deaths respectively. (Both were concluded in June 2006, a month before the violence peaked, suggesting the actual toll is even higher).
It is odder still that when epidemiological surveys have come to be accepted as the standard method for estimating conflict fatalities – the method has been used without controversy in Congo, Bosnia and Darfur – an exception is made in the case of Iraq. [Continue reading…]