A year's gone by, and where are we with the war in Iraq? I know, I've read George Bush's comments about what an evil guy Saddam Hussein was, how the Iraqi people wanted democracy, and now they're going to get it (well, eventually). But I keep asking myself: "At what cost?" What did we pay and what did the Iraqi people pay for this limbo of car bombings and broken infrastructure, endless lines at the gas pumps, US raids on villages and neighborhoods where most of the people don't know why the hell we're there, the Halliburton scandal, the missing WMD? What did we pay for all of that?
The toll in human lives is inexact, but expressive. The website http://www.AntiWar.com has a count:
US troop deaths since March 20, 2003 (the first day of the war): 572. US troop deaths since May 1, 2003 (when Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and told us that the war was largely over): 432. US troop deaths since Saddam was captured in December (and the Pentagon said they now had a lid on the insurgency): 114, which averages out to be about 1 dead US soldier per day. Coalition troop deaths: 101, which includes British, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Thai, and other troops.
Civilian deaths are harder to count, because the Pentagon doesn't keep a tally as a matter of policy. Http://www.IraqBodyCount.org keeps a conservative count, one that's based strictly on media reports. Unfortunately, media reports often rely on what spokesmen at the Pentagon say.
Iraqi civilian deaths since March 20, 2003: 8,581 to 10,430.
That's not counting other civilian deaths, like the 200 people who died in the terrorist bombings in Spain a couple of weeks ago. They're just as much victims of this war as the Iraqi civilians who died in last week's car bombing outside the Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad.
In fact, the Mount Lebanon Hotel car bombing is an interesting example of how the Pentagon undercounts civilian deaths in Iraq. Initial reports of the bombing said 17 people had been killed. Later press reports upped the figure to at least 27, with unknown numbers of people buried in the rubble. It wasn't just the hotel that was damaged: several houses were destroyed, a nearby apartment building was completely demolished, and the windows were blown out of a hospital across the street from the hotel. But the Pentagon insisted that only 7 people were killed, in spite of reporters at the scene saying they witnessed many more than 7 bodies pulled out of the rubble.
The Associated Press tells us that an estimated 660 people have died from suicide bombings in Iraq in the past year--more than the 474 people who've died in suicide bombings in Israel and Palestine in the past 3-1/2 years of the current Intifada.
The figures are complicated by the numbers of wounded. Battlefield triage has advanced light years from when the US military was involved in the Vietnam War, and many more US soldiers are saved today with wounds that might have killed them 35 years ago. But the Pentagon undercounts the wounded. UPI reporters talked to the head of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most US wounded are evacuated from Iraq. They've treated 11,754 soldiers. Of that number, 9,651 are from Iraq and the rest from Afghanistan.
Approximately 10 percent of the soldiers evacuated from Iraq are treated for psychiatric problems. Given that some US bases in Iraq are under mortar fire every night, I can understand that. Imagine laying down to sleep with no body armor on, no helmet, no protection, and having to listen to incoming mortars. Imagine shooting up a car speeding towards your checkpoint, only to find it full of children...or Iraqi police--guys you just worked with the day before. Or see your buddy die from a roadside bomb. I can understand it.
What about the Iraqi wounded? There are no counts, and there's no battlefied triage for them. Iraqi hospitals are still struggling to find enough beds for the sick, much less basic medicine, surgical equipment, or salaries for their doctors and nursing staff. The whole medical system is on the verge of collapse, in a worse state than it was staggered with the burden of economic sanctions under Saddam Hussein. The civilian casualty count tends to miss the Iraqis who are injured in attacks who die the next day, the day after, or a week later. It also misses the sick children dying of easily preventable diseases. If only they had enough penicillin and rehydration formulas. If only they had enough vaccines and clean needles. If only they'd had enough heart medicine for Grandma, who might have lived long enough to see her grandchildren born.
While we're at it, why not look at the War in Afghanistan, too? That other war, the forgotten one. Dead US troops total 114, including two who died just last week in Operation Mountain Storm, a new offensive meant to punish mountain tribesmen in northwestern Pakistan because they won't give up foreign terrorists they don't have. The Pentagon keeps issuing press releases saying that they've killed and captured foreign terrorists and Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, but they don't give specific numbers. No passports are waved as proof. No evidence is presented. Reporters who are following the Pakistani troops say all the dead appear to be local tribesmen.
Last week three British citizens were released from the US-run internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. The London Observer interviewed them and printed their tale of horror. It's worth reading, if you're curious about what the cost of the War on Terror has been: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1168937,00.html. Torture. Starvation. Forced marches through the desert with no food and water. People slowly dying of untreated war wounds. Suffocation inside a cargo container. Solitary confinement. Routine beatings. Being forced to confess crimes they didn't commit. Tens of thousands dead, not the few hundred that the Pentagon reported. It's all there, and the picture is ugly.
It's a War of Terror, a War of Torture, whose primary beneficiaries are George W. Bush and crew, grubbing for million-dollar campaign contributions and, of course, wealthy Americans happily stashing away their millions of dollars in tax breaks, relieved that we've forgotten all about corporate scandals and Wall Street excesses.
Help me remember.
Http://www.AntiWar.com; http://www.IraqBodyCount.org; "Explosion devastates Baghdad neighborhood," Agence France Presse, 3/17/04; "Car Bomb Kills Dozens in Baghdad," Sewell Chan, Washington Post Foreign Service, 3/18/04; "Car Bomb Kills 5 Iraqis in Basra," Daniel Cooney, Associated Press, 3/18/04; "3 killed by car bomb near hotel in Basra; Toll from earlier blast in Baghdad down to 7 from 27," Mike Dorning, Chicago Tribune, 3/19/04; "AP Tally: Iraq Suicide Bombs Killed 660," Tarek Al-Issawi, AP, 3/18/04; "Residents Flee After Pakistan Village Raid," Ahsanullah Wazir, AP, 3/17/04; "Revealed: the full story of the Guantanamo Britons," David Rose, The London Observer, 3/14/04, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1168976,00.html; and "How we survived in jail hell," David Rose, The London Observer, 3/14/01, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1168937,00.html.