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Wednesday, October 11, 2006 

There are (or should be) no words.

You might remember the Lancet report of 2004, which suggested that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of military intervention. At the time the survey, conducted by going from house to house in randomly-chosen areas of the country, was soon buried under an avalanche of opprobrium, not just from the usual suspects on the right, but also from those on the supposed left, such as the Observer, which misreported the study. The government similarly dumped on it from a great height, horrified that the public might turn against them in righteous anger if they believed the study's main finding.

It appears like the debate that followed the publishing of the study of the Lancet is going to happen all over again. Today a second study has been published which suggests that at the very least just less than 400,000 have died as a result of the invasion. The most probable figure however, is 654,965 dead.

It's worth putting that figure into context. According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 1999, between 400 and 500,000 died in Iraq between 1991 and 1999 as a result of the sanctions regime, which as we now know, succeeded in containing Saddam, but only at an intolerable cost to the civilian population. The Iran-Iraq war, with Saddam being encouraged from Washington, although the United States helped to arm both sides as revealed by the Iran-Contra affair, resulted in the deaths of a million. The number of Iraqi civilians that Saddam himself is estimated to be responsible for is more difficult to come to. Taking the numbers estimated to have died from the repression of the Kurds in 1988, and the repercussions that occurred against the Shia and Kurds after the failure of the 1991 rising, brings his toll to at least 150,000, although it could be as high as 330,000. Even if you then round that number up to 500,000, taking into account others that died throughout his reign, it still only brings the total to be equal to that of the sanctions. By comparison, the number of deaths estimated to have occurred in the Darfur region of Sudan since the beginning of the conflict is 400,000, which has been described by some as genocide.

The soul-crushing thing about calculating the number of deaths is that you become desensitised to just what each of the figures means to the family and friends of those involved. Stalin was right when he said that one death is a tragedy and that a million is a statistic. Already accusations are being made that the timing of the release of the study is meant to embarrass the Republicans as they face their mid-term elections. That there are those who are so completely shameless in their politics that they're prepared to climb on top of a pile of bodies and then shout that they're a politically motivated illusion shows just how far from reality we in the west have gone, thanks to our unprecedented safety and comfort. Thomas Friedman summed it up best (although he had no idea how gleefully his honesty would be seized on by the left) when he wrote:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist—McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Some of us have still not woken up to this truth. We need to. For now however, in relation to Iraq, there are, or should be, no words.

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