Thursday, March 29, 2007

Casualty figures

There is now further disagreement and confusion about the actual casualty figures in Iraq. A Report in the British medical journal Lancet, that has been released by the British Foreign Ministry, estimates that there were ca. 600,000 Iraqi civilian casualties (i.e deaths) since the beginning of the Second Gulf War. These were supposedly calculated by using algorithms that provide accurate figures (?) By contrast, the Iraqi Govt. have estimated that there were ca. 100,000 casualties and US President Bush repeated this figure in a statement on Monday.
I had some experience with the estimation of war casualties when I was the Chairman of the Israel and Middle East Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Washington during the First Lebanon War of 1982. The casualty figures that were thrown around then were unbelievable. All the media, including theWashington Post, were publishing exaggerated and even ridiculous figures, for example that 350,000 people had been injured and/or killed in South Lebanon. I did some research on this and discovered that there were less than 200,000 people then living in the whole of S. Lebanon (mostly small villages with two coastal towns, Tyre and Sidon). I published an article on the front page of the Washington Jewish week correcting these stories. It turned out that the figures that were being published originated from the Lebanese Govt, that in turn was quoting the Palestinian Red Crescent, that was run by none other than Yasir Arafat's brother! So such figures were nothing more than pure propaganda.
I remember being in a discussion on Georgetown University radio station with an Arab and a left-wing moderator. The whole thing was stacked, but I was able to demolish their argument that the IDF was deliberately targeting the Arab population, when they quoted those ridiculous figures I was ready with my answers. Eventually the numbers came down, first to around 10,000 dead and then when it was clear that this was grossly inflated it levelled out at ca. 600 dead, which was also an imaginary figure.
So it was with the recent Second Lebanon War, the figure that most people now quote for dead is 1,200, as reported by the Lebanese Govt. But there is no basis for this figure except the imagination of the Hizbollah spokesmen. If buildings were flattened in S. Beirut, there was no way whatsoever of knowing how many people had left, how many had stayed and how many of those were crushed inside or had escaped. You can't tell from hospital deaths either because many had been killed "in the field" and many had moved to North Lebanon. And some dead were counted twice or more times. So we can safely be sure that 1,200 was an exaggerated number and it may have been (say) half of this, ie. 600 killed. But that is also a guess, so it was probably between 100-600, and that's about all one can say.
As for Iraq, whatever algorithms they used, 600,000 is a ludicrous figure, especially as it does not claim to include military casualties, and at that time Iraqi soldiers were throwing off their uniforms and merging into the lcoal population. So while 100,000 may be the lower limit, all we can say is that the actual number is probably between 100-300,000.
Now why does it matter? Only to try to be honest about the actual casualties, and to avoid the propagandistic implication that the IDF or the US forces deliberately target and kill civilians.


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