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Nov 17 2006

The other foreign casualties in Iraq

The focus of attention to casualties in Iraq has been mainly on US soldiers, with sporadic attention given to Iraqi deaths. The few times when the latter got in the news was when the Lancet came out last month saying that there was a 95% probability that the number of increased deaths due to the war lay between 400,000 and 900,000. Despite the fact that the study followed well-established methods, its numbers were dismissed as being too high, people preferring to think that the actual figure was around the much lower 50,000,

The Iraqi minister of health dropped a bombshell last week when he said that he estimated the number of Iraqi casualties as around 150,000, three times the figure that the US government had quoted earlier, although he admitted it was very rough estimate.

But there are other casualty figures that have received less attention. One is the number of deaths of soldiers from other countries in the so-called ‘coalition of the willing.’ There have been about 250 of those, divided almost exactly equally between British troops and the rest.

But a surprise, for me at least, was the recently revealed high number of US civilian deaths, which turns out to be about 850 so far. These people are mostly involved with US companies involved in projects in Iraq and their deaths are a symptom of the awful security situation plaguing that country.

The London Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn gives a vivid description of the state of affairs and disputes those painting a rosy picture of the situation.

For the past three-and-a-half years in Iraq, one needed to close both eyes very hard or live in Baghdad’s Green Zone not to see that the occupation was detested by most Iraqis. At places where US Humvees had been blown up or US soldiers killed or wounded there were usually Iraqis dancing for joy.

Supposedly, the centrepiece of American and British policy is to stay “until the job is done” and hand over to Iraqi army and police who will cope with powerful militias like the Mehdi Army. But in police stations in many parts of southern Iraq, photographs pinned to the wall include one of British armoured vehicles erupting in flames, beside a portrait of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army.

In the first year of the occupation it could be argued that Bush and Blair were simply incompetent: they did not understand Iraq, were misinformed by Iraqi exiles, or were simply ignorant and arrogant. But they must know that for two-and-a-half years they have controlled only islands of territory in Iraq. “The Americans haven’t even been able to take over Haifa Street [a Sunni insurgent stronghold] though it’s only 400 yards from the Green Zone,” a senior Iraqi security official exclaimed to me last week.
. . .
The US media was under extreme pressure to report the non-existent good news that the White House accused them of ignoring.

I used to think how absurd it was for me to risk my life by visiting the Green Zone, the entrances to which were among the most bombed targets in Iraq, to see diplomats who claimed that the butchery in Iraq was much exaggerated. But when I asked them if they would like to come and have lunch in my hotel outside the zone, they always threw up their hands in horror and said their security men would never allow it.

The fantasy picture of Iraq purveyed by Mr Bush and Mr Blair is now being exposed. The Potemkin village they constructed to divert attention from what was really happening in Iraq is finally going up in flames.

But it is too late for the Iraqis, Americans and British who died because they were unwitting actors in this fiction, carefully concocted by the White House and Downing Street to show progress where there is frustration, and victory where there is only defeat.

Now that US funding for Iraqi reconstruction is running out, American companies like Bechtel and Kroll that had lucrative contracts are pulling out since they no longer will be making enough money to justify the risk of their employees being killed.

Since there is no more US money in the pipeline for Iraqi reconstruction, the Iraqi people are being left with no security and little hope for improvement in their infrastructure.

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