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Paying the Real Cost of War
July 19, 2005 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Estimated civilian casualties in Iraq: 25,000. A new study by the Oxford Research Group and Iraq Body Count estimates that 1 in 1000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion began. They further estimate that 37 percent of these deaths were caused by coalition forces, and 9 percent were killed by the insurgents. Estimated civilian wounded: 42,500. Over 1700 US troops have also died, and over 18,000 have been injured.
posted by digaman (39 comments total)

 
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posted by Balisong at 7:41 PM on July 19, 2005


More numbers:
Zogby International
Would you support the war if there were thousands of US casualties?
Mar. 15-17, 2003              43 / 50
Tuesday, June 21, 2005: "Only 39 percent of those polled said they favored the war in Iraq -- down from 47 percent in March -- and 59 percent were opposed."

My estimate for the incurred financial cost of our liberation-related program activities: $400B, or ~$2,000 out of the average taxpayer's pocket. Actually we're never repaying that money back so really it's going to be $15-$20/mo in interest on the debt for the rest of my life. Thanks Ralph!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:45 PM on July 19, 2005


To answer the obvious question (those not killed by the coalition or insurgents):

Post-invasion criminal violence accounted for 36% of all deaths.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 PM on July 19, 2005


How many 'Mass-graves' does that fill? At least three, I'd bet!
posted by Balisong at 7:50 PM on July 19, 2005


Please recall that different things can be counted.

This count is of deaths directly attributable to violence: bullets, bombs, flying pieces of metal, etc. It's also a count of deaths reported in the media or by hospitals; that is, public, confirmed deaths. If you get shot in the desert and no one finds your body, do you make a sound?

In contrast the Lancet study in 2004 counted excess deaths; deaths caused by violence as well as deaths caused by, say, lack of fresh water, lack of electricity, disease, lack of medical care, and so on, that are in excess of the number of such deaths that occurred in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion.

The two studies are not directly comparable but are in general agreement with each other.
posted by jellicle at 8:08 PM on July 19, 2005


My estimate for the incurred financial cost of our liberation-related program activities: $400B

CostOfWar.com says $181B, though that seems low to me.

To answer the obvious question (those not killed by the coalition or insurgents): Post-invasion criminal violence accounted for 36% of all deaths.

That still leaves 18% unexplained.
posted by scottreynen at 8:17 PM on July 19, 2005


FWIW: This info is also being discussed in this thread.
posted by highsignal at 8:22 PM on July 19, 2005


It seems odd that they include 9,000 "criminal killings" that have taken place in Iraq in the last two years in the total "reported killed" (they're talking about "ordinary" non-insurgency non-coalition murders, which have increased in number with the breakdown of law and order).
posted by gubo at 8:35 PM on July 19, 2005


Why does it seem odd to count deaths that the invasion contributed to, gubo? Should we count only those bodies out of whose flesh we pry made in USA bullets?
posted by squirrel at 8:50 PM on July 19, 2005


Let's throw in some numbers, to put things in perspective.

To start off with, the average Iraqi mortality rate is 5.5 deaths per 1000 people. The United States mortality rate is 8.4 deaths per 1000 people (mostly attributable to our older demographics.)

(from CIA factbook, Iraq)

26,000,000: the population of Iraq.
7,500,000: number of males 15-64 years old.
19.35: average median age of males.
67.5 years: male life expectency at birth.

As you can see, 25,000 killed is a tiny fraction of their population. At the time of GWII, their army was estimated
to be 400,000 men, reduced from over 1,000,000 in GWI.

I also note that the ORG only accounts for 46% of killed, between coalition forces and insurgents. I find it hard to blame the US for the 36% killed in criminal violence since the invasion, almost the same percentage as those killed by the US. Instead I would attribute their deaths to chaos in the absence of a government, that the US was working to restore at the time.

Given their own figures, the US military is directly responsible for 9,250 Iraqi civilian deaths. That is an almost unbelieveably small number in a major war. Were that figure given directly, I would doubt it as being almost impossible, given the weapons used and the intensity of several combat actions such as the capture of Bagdad and Fallujah.
posted by kablam at 9:17 PM on July 19, 2005


As you can see, 25,000 killed is a tiny fraction of their population.

Yeah, kablam, and just think what an even smaller percentage of the US population died in 9-11. We probably should have just let it slide.
posted by squirrel at 9:28 PM on July 19, 2005


Estimated civilian casualties in Iraq: 25,000.
...
Estimated civilian wounded: 42,500.


digaman, I think you intend to write "Estimated civilian deaths."

According to the the site you linked, the civilian casualty figure is more like 67,500. And the downloadable dossier doesn't appear to say anything about missing persons, which would drive the count even higher.

But all pedantry aside, these numbers make me sad. As much as I would like to believe that wars can be fought by remote control and high-tech devices that spare innocents, I know it's not the case.
posted by bugmuncher at 9:28 PM on July 19, 2005


kablam writes "Instead I would attribute their deaths to chaos in the absence of a government, that the US was working to restore at the time."

And of course the US were working to restore the government, because the US had basically destroyed the government. Even you don't hesitate to attribute those deaths to "chaos in the absence of a government", you can hardly escape laying the blame for that power vacuum at the feet of those who created that same power vacuum... or do you work for the Administration?
posted by clevershark at 9:29 PM on July 19, 2005


"I find it hard to blame the US for the 36% killed in criminal violence since the invasion, . . . . Instead I would attribute their deaths to chaos in the absence of a government" - kablam

You find it hard to blame the country that was responsible for the absence of government?

The US caused the absence of the government.
The absence caused the increase in criminal violence.
Thus the US caused the increase in criminal violence.
The fact that we were not the immediate cause shouldn't absolve us of the responsibility.

Or put another way: would the increase in criminal violence have happened if the US did not invade? The answer is probably not, so the US is responsible (Barring the revelation of some other cause of course. Care to suggest one instead of just denying responsibility?)
posted by oddman at 9:31 PM on July 19, 2005


Including the "conventional" violent crime deaths seemed a little confusing to me when it is being framed as a report on casualties in a war. Nevertheless I agree that the U.S. has to answer for creating the situation in which the criminal violence is taking place.
posted by gubo at 10:19 PM on July 19, 2005


I find this report a bit odd :

It contains the implicit claim that all civilian deaths in Iraq are reported by media. I find that absurd. It's good to track such deaths, but in the past the Iraq Body Count project has taken pains to note that its tally is certainly not complete.

I prefer the Lancet study.
posted by troutfishing at 12:13 AM on July 20, 2005


I think these figures sound realistic. I had read some estimates at 100,000 civilian dead, and this was about a year ago. I didn't think those were credible at the time and they seem less so today.

As for our military dead, 1700 is a lot. But prior to the war many estimated that we would lose 10,000+. We're into the 3rd year being there and aren't at 20%. I don't say this to justify the war or say "hey, it's not so bad," but I think it just illustrates how differently things went from expectations.

In terms of the US opinion polls, I think the public is simply tiring of talking about it, so polling support is falling. It's like the Bush supporters won the election so they really don't care WTF anyone thinks.
posted by b_thinky at 12:18 AM on July 20, 2005


Even if you double these figures, which is quite possible, things like the destruction of Falujah would have caused many, many deaths that would not have been reported, the war has cost remarkably few lives.

While the war has been highly deliterious to Iraq and has been a great boon for Islamic extremists it has not been that deadly.

There is a comment in the other linked thread about the cost of the war being higher than Vietnam or even Korea, which sounds remarkable but even allowing for a factor of one or two does make the war look very expensive.

In effect, what may be happening is that wars are becoming more expensive, but less deadly. Probably a good thing.
posted by sien at 12:34 AM on July 20, 2005


Every once in a while, I'll be in the middle of doing something thoughtless and dangerous that I think is going to make the job faster or easier (e.g. trying to rewire a wall socket without switching off the circuit) and my partner will walk in and say, "you know, there is likely a future time when you will look back on this moment and say, 'why didn't I think just a little more?' You have a chance to change that right now."

It's almost impossible to calculate the total cost of this occupation. In human terms, we have to think of all the lives that have been shattered and of the waves of horror and sorrow that will ripple across generations. In financial terms, this corporate military giveaway will cost us plenty in taxes for decades to come, and will almost certainly be used at some point to justify ending--er, privatizing--Social Security. I mean, we can't have it all: ending tyranny and terror as well as caring for the older folks and the disabled. Knowing this in the back of our collective mind, America has chosen to chase terror. We'll get what we've asked for, and we'll look back and wonder if it could have come out differently had we taken a moment to think just a little more.
posted by squirrel at 2:03 AM on July 20, 2005


1. Let's get the numbers straight, from the full report [pdf]:

Killers by category Number killed % of Total
1. US-led forces alone 9,270 37.3
2. Anti-occupation forces alone 2,353 9.5
3. Both US-led and anti-occupation forces involved 623 2.5
4. MoH-de? ned ‘military actions’ 635 2.5
5. MoH-de? ned ‘terrorist attacks’ 318 1.3
6. Predominantly criminal killings 8,935 35.9
7. Unknown agents 2,731 11.0
Total deaths 24,865 100.0

The categories are explained fully in the report.

2. This is as jellicle pointed out a count of violent deaths of civilians reported in the media. Obviously this is but an absolute lower limit of total violent deaths or, much more, total deaths (including Iraqi insurgents, which are not counted in this report) brought about by the invasion and occupation of the country.

3. The Lancet study is quite consistent with these findings. Indeed when the Lancet study was published claiming 100000 excess deaths, Scott Lipscomb, a member of the IBC team, was quoted in the IHT, saying as much:
"I am emotionally shocked, but I have no trouble in believing that this many people have been killed," said Scott Lipscomb, an associate professor at Northwestern University.

Lipscomb works on a Web site called www.iraqbodycount.net. That project, which collates only media-reported deaths, currently puts the death toll at just under 17,000. "We've always maintained that the actual count must be much higher," Lipscomb said.
4. Even this number of 25000 (which is, I repeat, a rather low lower limit of violent deaths of civilians, much less of the number of deaths caused by the occupation), should be considered in the light of the fact that (minus the bloody wars Saddam was involved in) the total number of civilians (defined as in the IBC report) was ~200.000 according to a rather anti-Saddam source. Over the 24 years of Saddam's rule that's ~8500 per year. So in two years of occupation the invading armies are responsible for more violent deaths of Iraqi civilians that Saddam's regime (which was I remind you one of the bloodiest around). To claim that this is a "reasonable" figure on must be willing to accept a pretty unreasonable definition of reasonable.
posted by talos at 4:20 AM on July 20, 2005


oops: "on one must be willing..."
posted by talos at 4:34 AM on July 20, 2005


> 3. The Lancet study is quite consistent with these findings.

You bet it is. The lancet study states:

We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% confidence interval 8000-194,000) during the post-war period.

As critics of the study pointed out at the time, any number in the 8000-194,000 range is "consistent" with the study. But, as critics-of-the-critics explained:

1)The confidence interval describes a range of values which are “consistent” with the model[1]. But it doesn’t mean that all values within the confidence interval are equally likely, so you can just pick one. In particular, the most likely values are the ones in the centre of a symmetrical confidence interval. The single most likely value is, in fact, the central estimate of 98,000 excess deaths.


Therefore, if you're now plumping for a 25,000 figure, you're conceding that the lancet study was pick-numbers-out-of-your-ass science--which it was. Not that that kept silly people from obsessing massively over it. But, as we see, their memories are short...
posted by jfuller at 4:53 AM on July 20, 2005


Therefore, if you're now plumping for a 25,000 figure, you're conceding that the lancet study was pick-numbers-out-of-your-ass science

No, I'm saying that ~100.000 total (from all possible causes) excess deaths in 17 months, is quite consistent with ~25.000 only civilian, only violent deaths that were reported in the media (therefore not including unreported deaths), in 24 months. Think about it.
posted by talos at 5:08 AM on July 20, 2005


What was claimed by the lancet study was 100,000 extra civilian deaths, mostly violent, as a result of military action:

When the researchers examined the causes of the 73 violent deaths collected in the study, 84 percent were due to the actions of coalition forces, although the researchers stressed that none was the result of what would have been considered misconduct. Ninety-five percent were due to airstrikes by helicopter gunships, rockets or other types of aerial weaponry.



> violent deaths that were reported in the media (therefore not including unreported deaths)

Now there's a random number. If we're only going to count deaths that made the nightly news, why is this number of any interest at all to anyone? Quick, cut to the latest missing attractive white woman.
posted by jfuller at 5:22 AM on July 20, 2005


That's why the 25,000 number jives with the 100,000 number. So 25% of the total civillian casualties made it into the media; that does not sound unreasonable at all
posted by solipse at 5:58 AM on July 20, 2005


What was claimed by the lancet study was 100,000 extra civilian deaths, mostly violent, as a result of military action

No, if you check the survey itself, there is no mention of not counting insurgent deaths.

If we're only going to count deaths that made the nightly news, why is this number of any interest at all to anyone?

Because it provides an absolute and solid minimum number of casualties. The sources BTW are not the nightly news but a wide range of news sources.
posted by talos at 6:12 AM on July 20, 2005


Though usually the wide range of news sources all get their numbers from the same primary sources.
posted by smackfu at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2005


What does it matter?

Those dead people all hated freedom and stuff anyway, correct?

We all should know by now that freedom and democracy haters, as defined by the White House, are not real people but subhumans and deserve to die.

On to Iran and Syria bitches! We got us some hajis to kill!

Before you go hating on me for this post, just admit that the above attitude is REAL for many Americans.
posted by nofundy at 8:07 AM on July 20, 2005


What you MOONBATS don't understand is that freedom's just another word for "nothin' left to lose". Only when everyone dies will we be truly free - and that's good enough for me and Bobby McGee. Oh, and Rumsfelch too.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:29 AM on July 20, 2005


*sigh*
What sien said.

I prefer Kool MoH-de talos.

Would the increase in criminal violence have happened if the US did not invade? The answer is probably not, so the US is responsible


By that logic then oddman if Iraq is stabilized and those people do become free, is then the US responsible?
Was it then perhaps worth it?

I'm not unwilling to completely abandon the good being done here in complete favor of the death statistics. I readily concede there was a wealth of misleading and misused information going into the Iraq war. I am completely stymied as to the administration's motives (I have some strong albeit unprovable ideas though). But the troops on the ground seem to think they're there to free people. It's what they're being told so it's what they're trying to do.
(again - conceding misuse in the first place)

The question being asked is - is this worth it? I'd ask that question from the opposing viewpoint - isn't it?

Iraqis have spent years under tyranny. They're like institutionalized prisoners or caged birds. The bird when set free might hurt himself flying, get eaten by a cat or any of the dangers in the outside world, but - he's out of the cage.

Ask yourself - should we invade Burma? North Korea?
The knee-jerk answer is: they don't have oil.
But as I've conceded that point let's consider the practical aspect of spreading democracy - as is our policy much as the spread of communism was the U.S.S.R.'s policy - in waging war.
Consider: is it worth pain and blood and chaos to overthrow an oppressor?
Is it worth one life?

If it's worth even one death, than to (mis)quote Churchill - we've established what you are we're merely haggling over price.

Given the lies and distortions and what may be ulterior motives here, perhaps the cost of even one is too high. If I could prove it either way I would. But I don't think the cost is the only issue.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2005


Consider: is it worth pain and blood and chaos to overthrow an oppressor?

If you decide to spill *my* blood to overthrow *my* oppressor (and in the process become my new oppressor), then no. If I chose to do it myself, definitely.

But the troops on the ground seem to think they're there to free people. It's what they're being told so it's what they're trying to do.

That is irrelevant though: Russian troops in Chechnya are told (and probably believe) that they're defending Russia from terrorism. So?

BTW the MoH is the Ministry of Health (sorry about that: bug in copy/pasting from pdfs)
posted by talos at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2005


Of course the troops are trying to do the work of freeing people as best they can. The integrity of their mission is the responsibility of their commander-in-chief and their commanding officers. That's the terrible tragedy of this war -- they're being sent into a meatgrinder by a bunch of irresponsible liars, con artists, and opportunists who have no respect for democracy at home, much less in Iraq. We'll be paying the cost of their bullshit for decades.
posted by digaman at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2005


The data post-Iraqi election.

Civilian Deaths since April 2005 (min/max) = 1437/1584
Civilian Deaths by Coalation Forces since April 2005 = 30/30
Coalition Deaths since April 2005 =252

I just thought the numbers post-election somewhat suprising.
posted by forforf at 1:01 PM on July 20, 2005


So what about to the 100,000 casualty figure that John Hopkins was floating? What are the details of that? I still see people here use it with out any caveat.

Seems to me that there are two true and conflicting things this report seems to be outlining. That:

1) 25,000 thousand people is shit load of dead people. And there will be massive consequences as the pain from that loss is exponential both in the psychological effect and in the economic loss. And even if there WERE an Iraq and AQ connection a 8x retaliation is exceptionally hard to justify.

2) In terms of modern warfare it is much less than one would expect given the density and vulnerability of the populations and the shear might of the force expended on them. Therefore it is a testament to the US military attempting to minimize direct civilian casualties.

So. The sad fact is - it's going to go up. Before the US leaves expect that number to almost double (if do indeed stay as long as they have pledged) because the insurgency is now "trained" and growing. It will go up even if the US leaves.

Personally I'd like my tax dollars and my brothers blood spent elsewhere and I say we get the fuck out. But none of the options look very good.
posted by tkchrist at 1:27 PM on July 20, 2005


In addition there's the theoretical number of Iraqis who would have been killed if Saddam remained in power. Apparently he was killing an average of 16,000 per year for his entire time in power. (Admittedly that's an old article but the point remains valid... A lot of people who would otherwise have been killed in acts of government terror were not)

Personally, I feel the debate you're all having about these casualty figures justifying or delegitimizing the war is pretty facile. No one here can analyse these figures without making a judgement based on their own support or opposition to the war.

If they have no opinion on the war, their opinion is most likely to be determined on humanitarian grounds ("so many dead; can't be good") which while worthy in sentiment is not useful when judging the true costs/benefits of the war in Iraq. Assuming that is, that you take the opinion that there is such thing as a just war. If you do, then their can be no judgement on its validity until it ends. Only then can the consequences (democratic Iraq and/or ME, impact on the root causes of Muslim support for Sunni extremist ideology or Civil war in Iraq/ME, strengthening of Sunni extremism/terrorism against West) be balanced against the human tragedy resulting from the military conflict/ civil strife that as we speak shapes the future of Iraq.

My own opinion is that there are a huge number of Iraqis who loath the occupation and dislike America's culture but are glad Saddam's gone. Peaceful government is all they want. I don't think the behaviour of the coalition forces - provisional governments/localised attempts at democracy and the surprisingly successful election of a new government - go against these sentiments and thus there is the potential for this to be judged by historians as a just war. But I for one can't judge until it's over and the success of these actions are apparent.
posted by pots at 2:01 PM on July 20, 2005


Apparently he was killing an average of 16,000 per year for his entire time in power.

The vast majority of Iraqi deaths under Saddam Hussein happened in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s (losing hundreds of thousands of people will really skew that average you mentioned) and in the uprisings after the Gulf War. And in July 2004 the British government admitted that only 5,000 corpses had been found, not the 400,000 that Tony Blair claimed in November 2004. (This exaggerated claim is also made in the article that you linked to.)
posted by kirkaracha at 4:46 PM on July 20, 2005


thus there is the potential for this to be judged by historians as a just war.

In considering the criteria that would justify humanitarian intervention, the most important, as noted, is the level of killing: was genocide or comparable mass slaughter underway or imminent? Brutal as Saddam Hussein’s reign had been, the scope of the Iraqi government’s killing in March 2003 was not of the exceptional and dire magnitude that would justify humanitarian intervention. We have no illusions about Saddam Hussein’s vicious inhumanity. Having devoted extensive time and effort to documenting his atrocities, we estimate that in the last twenty-five years of Ba`th Party rule the Iraqi government murdered or “disappeared” some quarter of a million Iraqis, if not more. In addition, one must consider such abuses as Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers. However, by the time of the March 2003 invasion, Saddam Hussein’s killing had ebbed.

There were times in the past when the killing was so intense that humanitarian intervention would have been justified—for example, during the 1988 Anfal genocide, in which the Iraqi government slaughtered some 100,000 Kurds. Indeed, Human Rights Watch, though still in its infancy and not yet working in the Middle East in 1988, did advocate a form of military intervention in 1991 after we had begun addressing Iraq. As Iraqi Kurds fleeing Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression of the post-Gulf War uprising were stranded and dying in harsh winter weather on Turkey’s mountainous border, we advocated the creation of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq so they could return home without facing renewed genocide. There were other moments of intense killing as well, such as the suppression of the uprisings in 1991. But on the eve of the latest Iraq war, no one contends that the Iraqi government was engaged in killing of anywhere near this magnitude, or had been for some time. “Better late than never” is not a justification for humanitarian intervention, which should be countenanced only to stop mass murder, not to punish its perpetrators, desirable as punishment is in such circumstances...

In stating that the killing in Iraq did not rise to a level that justified humanitarian intervention, we are not insensitive to the awful plight of the Iraqi people. We are aware that summary executions occurred with disturbing frequency in Iraq up to the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule, as did torture and other brutality. Such atrocities should be met with public, diplomatic, and economic pressure, as well as prosecution. But before taking the substantial risk to life that is inherent in any war, mass slaughter should be taking place or imminent. That was not the case in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in March 2003.


Human Rights Watch - War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention
posted by y2karl at 8:43 PM on July 20, 2005


I know I wouldn't want to risk my ass to create a new iraq.and really what are we doing , lets suck up the oil and move on.this is costly and draining.and ultimately futile, ask the brits they did same thing early on in this century,
posted by xtiml at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2005


"If you decide to spill *my* blood to overthrow *my* oppressor (and in the process become my new oppressor), then no. If I chose to do it myself, definitely."
Fair comment talos, but they didn't choose to do it themselves. Or perhaps they tried & couldn't. Honestly, I don't know.

"That is irrelevant though: Russian troops in Chechnya are told (and probably believe) that they're defending Russia from terrorism. So?"

So - the mechanism involved. Tell 100,000 people to start digging and eventually you have a big hole whether that was intended or not. You have smart, capable hard working men & officers building a foundation to make a self-sustaining government. The powers that be can monkey about with it as they wish, for now, by manipulating the leaders and faking elections. But - there will come a time when those folks are no longer in power - and/or a point when it's time in Iraq to elect someone new. If they elect someone who doesn't like the U.S. - what does that power bloc that has whatever secret agenda do?

There is no way to involve thousands of officers in the false front conspiracy. So you would likely have to re-invade.

If Iraq isn't ultimately freed, those folks who are there working towards that will be asking why. You can't play political grab-ass forever with people who actually want to get something done. There are a lot more idealists in the service than one might think.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:19 PM on July 21, 2005


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