Many will remember the media frenzy in the fall of 2006 when an epidemiological study estimated deaths in Iraq since the beginning of US intervention there (see “Study Claims Iraq’s ‘Excess’ Death Toll Has Reached 655,000,” by David Brown of the Washington Post, 11 October 2006). The number was far higher than estimates given by President George Bush and the Iraq Body Count.
Now Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian have published an article entitled “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness” in The Nation; have a long article based on extensive interviews with people who have seen the war first hand.
Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.
The accounts reported by Mr. Hedges and Ms. Al-Arian are terrible, as most first-person accounts of war must be. The soldiers’ stories are very difficult to read. Some tell about wounded children or degrading treatment of corpses. In one account, a sergeant recounts how his group awakened a family of farmers who were sleeping in their farmyard; after “The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream,” the sergeant realized “I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag.”
US military deaths are known with some certainty. Web sites (US News Link, Antiwar.com, USA Today, Military City, iCasualties, Iraq War Memorial) scrape the US military’s (“Defend America”) data; one can download a spreadsheet listing the dead among US military personnel.
It’s still difficult to settle the question of how many Iraqis have died as a result of this war. Iraq Body Count aggregates data about civilian deaths in Iraq from media reports (the scripts from Iraq Body Counts that have become ubiquitous on the Web are available for download). At iCasualties there are lists of Iraqi Security Forces and Civilian Deaths Details and casualties among contractors, but they are acknowledged as underestimates.
So, who knows how many have died. To be sure, some people would have died had there been no war. Some might have died terrible deaths. But, can anyone reasonably argue that fewer would have died had there been no military action or that the reports recounted by Mr. Hedges and Ms. Al-Arian are not horrible?
There certainly will be more deaths—terrible, horrific deaths— after US forces withdraw. But, at least there will be fewer US citizens among them and, especially importantly, US citizens will not be killing.