Deaths in Iraq

I think it is worthwhile to update James Wimberly’s comparison of surveys of deaths in Iraq. In the table below death tolls have been extrapolated to give a number of deaths due to the war up to Oct 08.

Survey Violent deaths Excess deaths
ILCS 160,000
Lancet 1 350,000 510,000
IFHS 310,000 740,000
Lancet 2 1,200,000 1,300,000
ORB 1,200,000

It is interesting to see that the IFHS ends up right in the middle, between the two Lancet studies. If you think that the IFHS study is reasonable then you must conclude that Lancet 1 has been confirmed and the critics of Lancet 1 were wrong.

What about the comparison between Lancet 2 and the IFHS? Some folks are arguing that the larger sample size of the IFHS meaning that its estimate trumps Lancet 2, but the larger sample size just reduces the sampling error. The top of the IFHS confidence interval for violent deaths (220,000) is much smaller than the bottom end of the Lancet 2 interval (420,000) so the difference can only explained by non-sampling error, and here the IFHS isn’t necessarily better. It was too dangerous to visit 11% of their clusters and in the ones they could visit they say that as many of 50% of the violent deaths may have gone unreported. They have attempted to correct for these problems, but the corrections may be not be enough. For example, they use the IBC numbers to estimate the violence in the unvisited areas relative to those they visited. But the most violent areas are going to be too dangerous for reporters as well, so the IBC will tend to undercount deaths in those areas relative to less violent areas. This doesn’t mean that the Lancet 2 estimate doesn’t have non-sampling errors as well — Iraq at present is just a really difficult place to survey. I think that the best we can do is guess that the real number of violent deaths in Iraq to date is somewhere in the range 300,000 to 1,000,000. Even the lowest number in the range is a horrendous death toll.

The numbers for excess deaths are for Lancet 2 and the IFHS are closer to each other, which suggests that some of the difference in violent death rates could be deaths being misclassified (either as violent by Lancet 2, or non-violent by IFHS). Since the Lancet usually checked death certificates, it seems that they would be less likely to misclassify deaths.

Notes: I did the calculations a little differently from Wimberly. He used the published totals on a given date from the IBC to scale the figures — I used the actual total number of deaths in the current IBC data base for a given time period. For example, the ILCS covered the first 13 months, so it is scaled by (IBC current total)/(IBC total for first 13 months). In addition, I only used IBC scaling for violent deaths. For excess non-violent deaths I assumed that the death rate was constant.

(This updates my previous post.)

Comments

  1. #1 Steve
    November 24, 2008

    Typo: 2nd last line of the big paragraph: i think you mean 1,000,000 instead of 1,0000,000. *[Fixed. Thanks]*

  2. #2 ben
    November 25, 2008

    If you think that the IFHS study is reasonable then you must conclude that Lancet 1 has been confirmed and the critics of Lancet 1 were wrong.

    Must? You might have to conclude that Lancet 1 was probably confirmed, but certainly nothing has been proven. A random dart can still hit a bullseye by luck, even if the odds are small.

    Even the lowest number in the range is a horrendous death toll.

    True, but was the alternative worse? Sure, it is likely that the whole mess was the fault of previous US government policies in the region, and it can be argued that the war was a bad idea, and the answers to those questions might be important, but are the Iraqis now, and is their future going forward, worse off than they would have been if the US and its allies had done nothing? That’s the question I’m primarily interested in now.

    Saddam is dead, and the ball is firmly in the Iraqi’s court. It’s up to them to do something with it and I hope they build a good country with what they have.

    Preemptive question to Jeff: If the *corporations* are so darn powerful, why couldn’t they maintain oil prices above $100? Further, why is it that every book you read and every memo you quote so obviously one-sided? Really, there must be somewhere between a million and a billion memos. I’m sure if I dug hard enough it wouldn’t be to difficult to find government memos that support just about any position anyone could come up with. Similarly, you can find a book by someone with adequate credentials on just about any historical subject that will support all sides of the spectrum. You do a lot of reading. Why don’t you read books that don’t agree with your world view?

  3. #3 Vagueofgodalming
    November 25, 2008

    you can find a book by someone with adequate credentials on just about any historical subject that will support all sides of the spectrum.

    I think Ben deserves to be congratulated for coming up with an almost perfect expression of the denialist creed. I suggest deleting the word ‘historical’ to attain the apotheosis of know-nothingism. It has a beautiful quaintness in the post-Bush world.

  4. #4 dhogaza
    November 25, 2008

    Saddam is dead, and the ball is firmly in the Iraqi’s court. It’s up to them to do something with it and I hope they build a good country with what they have.

    Pfft, they still aren’t allowed to piss without our unzipping their pants for them.

    Preemptive question to Jeff: If the corporations are so darn powerful, why couldn’t they maintain oil prices above $100?

    Not all corporations profit when oil prices are high. That’s a simple answer that probably doesn’t reflect reality in this case, but it should serve to make clear that corporations battle each other and aren’t in some monolithic conspiracy to make each other profitable. This is not inconsistent with the reality that large multinationals are doing their best to minimize government control through internationalization, or even (in the US) through regionalization where you have state pitted against state offering ever increasing tax benefits due to corporations simply saying “tax me, and we move to MIssissippi”.

  5. #5 Jeff Harvey
    November 25, 2008

    Vagueofgadalming and Dhogaza answered Ben perfectly. No need for me to expand upon their answers. But I find it absolutely shocking – though not surprising – that Ben could dredge up the old ‘it could have been worse’ option when referring to somehwere between 300,000 and 1 million dead Iraqis as a result of an illegal and unprovoked invasion. In US terms, this would be ther equivalent of between 3 million and 10 million dead. Given that Saddam was ‘their kind of guy’ in the US until he slipped the leash and invaded Kuwait in 1990, and committed his worst crimes with US support, it strains incredulity for anyone to make such a ridiculous assertion as Ben. Let’s not also forget the toll of the ‘sanctions of mass destruction’, which killed perhaps a million more between 1991 and 2003, and were referred to as ‘genocidal’ by the most senior UN officials (Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck) who resigned over the issue; lets also not forget the fact that the country ranks second from last in the world as a ‘failed state’ and that its entire infrastructure, destroyed pretty mnuch in the first Gulf War, deteriorated further until the second war in 2003 and has even worsened since then. Historian Nir Rosen’s words resonate: “Iraq has been destroyed, never to rise again. Our only hope in the coming years is that the damage can be contained”.

    As far as oil is concerned, D’hogaza is correct. Moreover, Ben, if you bothered to read the ‘dictates’ signed under Bush with respect to the country’s resources. you’ll see that the oil giants are biding their time. The aim is as it always was – privatiziation that enable profits to be repatriated abroad. Its also about control – this was the main war aim that has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s and the assertions of now famous state department report. In 1958, Eisenhower commissioned a report from the CIA asking why the people in the Middle East helkd such antipathy towards the United States. The answer was simple, and came back quickly: because the US coveted their resources, supported vile regimes and suppressed indigenous nationalism in the region. The recommendation: DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING. In other words, stick to the same policies which generated the antipathy in the first place.

    As far as literature, Ben, I read a lot of it: not just from what you would refer to as material from dreaded ‘liberals’ but from more mainstream writers on both sides of the spectrum. I don’t agree with a lot of them, but I formulate my opinions on a wide range of sources. As a scientist, I also try to base my opinions on the empirical evidence. Given the power structures that effectively run the world, I think its actually quite remarkable that some of the things that I say here are greeted with bitter contempt from some (like you) here; this says a lot about the way in which the mass media has managed to indoctrinate a lot of people with the idea that our governments are effectively ‘benevolent’ and support ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ but that they make the odd mistake in pursuing a ‘noble agenda’. It is especially this kind of exceptionalism and what I feel to be patently false self-image that many people hold for western nations; I say that with plenety of evidence to back it up. The problem is that much of our media send this evidence continually down the ‘memory hole’ and instead promulgate myths and illusions that mask the real agendas. Ben, if you bothered to learn about bodies such as the Council on Foreign Relations, a highly influential body, you might think a bit differently.

    To be honest, it takes incredible hubris to make assertions like ‘it could be worse’ in Iraq, bringing in triage as a strategy. But then, given that many of these arguments continue to circulate, it does not surprise me.

  6. #6 yogi-ione
    November 25, 2008

    Just close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself: is what we did to Iraq right?

    The instinctual first answer for any sane person will be “no”.

    Any other answer is lying and has to be propped up with denialism.

    That’s just how I see it.

  7. #7 P. Lewis
    November 25, 2008

    Perhaps I’m missing Ben’s context, but his statement

    If the corporations are so darn powerful, why couldn’t they maintain oil prices above $100?

    seems to me to be plain daft on two levels: (a) supply-and-demand market economics; (b) the legal niceties of of various countries’ price fixing and anti-trust/anti-competitive legislation.

  8. #8 Dunc
    November 25, 2008

    are the Iraqis now […] worse off than they would have been if the US and its allies had done nothing?

    Yes, mostly. Especially the dead ones.

  9. #9 Bernard J.
    November 25, 2008

    …it can be argued that the war was a bad idea

    Delicious understatement, Ben.

    On any humanitarian, political or coldly logical basis it would be much, much harder to argue that the invasion was not a bad idea. It was for all of these reasons that I joined hundreds of thousands of Australians in the streets of Sydney to protest my country’s impending participation in the invasion.

    It wasn’t difficult to see what a stupendously bad idea the invasion was.

    And if one desires to be abstract about it, the invasion was an unmitigated disaster, and indeed a veritable crime, if it is considered on an archeological basis.

    …are the Iraqis now, and is their future going forward, worse off than they would have been if the US and its allies had done nothing?

    Yes.

    There were many strategies that could have been adopted had the US, or the world, really wanted to address the (largely domestic Iraqi) issue of Saddam Hussein. And as the insightful have commented, if Iraq’s main export had been broccoli there would have been no war. It’s interesting to consider this, because in such a circumstance I suspect that most people would argue that Mugabe’s Zimbabwe would deserve international intervention more than Saddam’s Iraq would have.

    The Zimbabweans must be crying themselves to sleep every night wishing that their country had Iraq’s oil and/or strategic relevance.

    I note too Ben that your question about whether Iraqis would be ‘worse off’ without an invasion is a duplicitous one, as there is no way that it can be concretely answered.

    Our previous prime minister John W. Howard used this technique to claim that interest rates would always be lower under his Liberal(irony!)/National Coallition government than under a Labor government. He knew full well that because we can’t ever rerun history he could never be proved wrong, and all he needed to do was to instill, in the voting public’s minds, the fear that he might be right. The Australian public was not going to fall for that one though, and he was soundly routed at the last election.

    Thus it is that his second successor, Malcolm Turnbull, is now Her Majesty’s opposition leader: he continues to use the technique though to claim that unemployment, generated here by the financial crisis overseas, would have been lower under his government.

    It’s interesting to see you use the same clumsy technique here – do you use it elsewhere to fool the unwary, and expect it to fly as easily when engaging this crowd? If you seriously wonder about this idea, 30 seconds of objective thought would have answered your own musing.

  10. #10 sod
    November 25, 2008

    Must? You might have to conclude that Lancet 1 was probably confirmed, but certainly nothing has been proven. A random dart can still hit a bullseye by luck, even if the odds are small.

    strawman. why would you bring up a “proof”? it is nearly impossible to “prove” any deathtoll number in a warzone. independent verification of a study (lancet 1 ) that was dismissed as complete nonsense by the likes of you, is a pretty strong support for the claims it made.

    talking about random darts, i am still waiting for a “ben post” to be somewhat on target. it is pretty obvious, that you would be telling the truth more often, when you would link completely random articles…

    True, but was the alternative worse? Sure, it is likely that the whole mess was the fault of previous US government policies in the region, and it can be argued that the war was a bad idea, and the answers to those questions might be important, but are the Iraqis now, and is their future going forward, worse off than they would have been if the US and its allies had done nothing? That’s the question I’m primarily interested in now.

    iraq is falling apart. the US invasion and Bush s incompetent handling of the post war period has lead to a total segregation of ethnic groups and sects.
    today, Iraq is a country by name only. this will cause massive problems in the future, and all of them will fall back on G.W. Bush.

  11. #11 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    Could we please keep this thread focused on the substantive points that Tim makes above? Save he vitriol for an open thread.

    Tim writes: “Since the Lancet usually checked death certificates, it seems that they would be less likely to misclassify deaths.”

    Do you have reason to believe that these death certificates specified a cause of death? I have never seen one so I don’t know. But I can’t recall anyone from the Lancet team making this claim. They only claim, I think, that their checking of death certificates confirms that the deaths occurred, not what sort of death it was.

  12. #12 Jeff Harvey
    November 25, 2008

    “Could we please keep this thread focused on the substantive points that Tim makes above?”

    What is so irrelevant about the following facts, David?

    The invasion of Iraq violated the UN Charter, other international laws the US constitution, and constitutes ‘The supreme international crime of aggression’ according to the jurisdiction laid out by the Nuremberg tribunals and summed up in the words of chief war crime prosecutors Telford Taylor and Robert Jackson. The invasion has led to the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands of people and Iraq’s infrastructure has been decimated. The future for the country looks very, very bleak indeed.

    Care to explain why these facts are ‘vitriol’?

  13. #13 sod
    November 25, 2008

    Do you have reason to believe that these death certificates specified a cause of death? I have never seen one so I don’t know. But I can’t recall anyone from the Lancet team making this claim. They only claim, I think, that their checking of death certificates confirms that the deaths occurred, not what sort of death it was.

    well, those in use in the west do. and my arabic isn t good enough to read an iraqi one.

    US one:
    http://tinyurl.com/5zb3g6

    iraqi one, from afar :)
    http://tinyurl.com/5c2j3z

    the certificate might indicate cause of death by other means (location and date should be the same, as that of the big explosion claimed to be the reason..)

    —————————

    but i have three simple questions for David:

    1. have you devoted the same time to criticizing IFHS failure to look into death certificates, as you did in finding problems with lancets use of them?

    2. would you agree, that total excess dead is a number that is much more important? and that the distinguishing is mostly academic?

    3. did you ever consider, that iraqi health ministry asking for cause of death might be a reason for the very different violent/non-violent result of the non-lancet study?

  14. #14 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    sod has questions, I have answers.

    have you devoted the same time to criticizing IFHS failure to look into death certificates, as you did in finding problems with lancets use of them

    No. My understanding is that IFHS did not “look into death certificates” for the same reason that you or I would not do the same if we were doing a similar survey in the US, i.e., the vast majority of people don’t keep death certificates. Maybe they are right about that. Maybe not.

    would you agree, that total excess dead is a number that is much more important? and that the distinguishing is mostly academic?

    Well, I think that total excess deaths is more important but much harder to estimate. In the absence of invasion, you can be pretty sure (and ignoring Saddam making trouble) that people violently killed would not have been. But how easy is it to know what, say, infant mortality would have been in a world without a US invasion? Not very.

    In either case, I don’t see the distinction as “academic.” I want to estimate the total excess deaths and I want to break down that estimate into different causes.

    did you ever consider, that iraqi health ministry asking for cause of death might be a reason for the very different violent/non-violent result of the non-lancet study?

    Yes. But the whole “iraqi health ministry” trope is highly misleading. You complain about IFHS that the surveyors worked for the Iraqi government. Fine. That is a concern. But the Lancet surveyors were doctors employed at an Iraqi hospital. They work for the government too! I don’t see the difference as a major issue in reconciling IFHS and L1/L2.

  15. #15 Bernard J.
    November 25, 2008

    David Kane.

    As much as I hate diversions from the topic of a thread (even though I am often guilty in participating in such myself), I have to agree with Jeff Harvey.

    Ben’s rhetorical question presupposes a particular value-judgement about the reasons for invading in the first place. Allowing such positions to pass unchallenged (especially when they are likely invalid) may directly or indirectly affect how some people access the merits of the analytical techniques that are the subject of this thread.

    So I concurr with Jeff – these are relevant points, if not directly substantive ones, and these days they hardly constitute vitriol. I think that our skins are a little tougher than they were even 5 years ago, when the term ‘flame’ was a much greater concern for us than it is now.

  16. #16 Barton Paul Levenson
    November 25, 2008

    I think the idea of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a good one. I think the disaster aspects are from the incompetent way it was done. We could have run a much better occupation, as we did in Germany and Japan.

    Question for Jeff: Would you be in favor of invading Darfur to stop the genocide there? Why or why not? Is the “supreme crime” of aggression worse than genocide? If so, why?

  17. #17 Eli Rabett
    November 25, 2008

    David Kane is either insanely lucky, deeply stupid or lying scum. Your choice. Everyone in the real world who loses someone in their family keeps multiple death certificates for a long time to handle the estate. Every transaction requires a death certificate. I recall an endless discussion of this in the forum wrt Iraq.

    And David, if you don’t like being called out refrain from testing our patience. Otherwise, mess off.

  18. #18 Sortition
    November 25, 2008

    The IFHS study has multiple weaknesses. One can only imagine how this study would have been shredded by apologists of the invasion if it weren’t for the need to use it in order to attack Lancet2.

  19. #19 sod
    November 25, 2008

    sorry David, but those “answers” were horrible!

    No. My understanding is that IFHS did not “look into death certificates” for the same reason that you or I would not do the same if we were doing a similar survey in the US, i.e., the vast majority of people don’t keep death certificates. Maybe they are right about that. Maybe not.

    well, the problem is, that we DEFINITELY KNOW, that they are right.
    look at the facts:

    At the conclusion of the interview in a
    household where a death was reported, the interviewers were to ask for a copy of the death certificate.
    In 92% of instances when this was asked, a death certificate was present.

    your position, finding faults with the lancet handling of death certificates, while agreeing with IFHS on not asking for them, is (at best) INCONSISTENT.

    Well, I think that total excess deaths is more important but much harder to estimate. In the absence of invasion, you can be pretty sure (and ignoring Saddam making trouble) that people violently killed would not have been. But how easy is it to know what, say, infant mortality would have been in a world without a US invasion? Not very.

    i am not sure, whether you understood the concept of excess deaths. it is “excess deaths over a certain, well defined, pre war level”.
    the paper is very clear about this concept. the number is used as a baseline for the period, but this is simply in absence of a better estimate.

    if you have one, please bring it on. if you haven t, please stop sowing doubt with unsupported baseless statements!
    (btw, with a similar vague claim, we could assume massive changes to violent death rates in an alternative scenario as well..)

    and heaven forbid, we might assume, that we had used a tiny fraction of the war cost for preventing an increase in death rate without toppling Saddam..

    In either case, I don’t see the distinction as “academic.” I want to estimate the total excess deaths and I want to break down that estimate into different causes.

    well, i am surprised. then why don t your “essays” start with a long analysis of the similarities in death rates between those surveys?

    Yes. But the whole “iraqi health ministry” trope is highly misleading. You complain about IFHS that the surveyors worked for the Iraqi government. Fine. That is a concern. But the Lancet surveyors were doctors employed at an Iraqi hospital. They work for the government too! I don’t see the difference as a major issue in reconciling IFHS and L1/L2.

    this is absurd. you don t see any difference, between any doctor taking a survey, or the iraqi ministry of health (lead by the Sadrists, who were responsible for a significant part of the killing!) doing it?

    and at the same time, you wonder, why death certificates are missing in a certain cluster? absurd!

  20. #20 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    I am trying to explain to sod and eli about the (inexplicable to them) “IFHS failure to look into death certificates.” If you don’t like my explanation, fine. Ask the authors! All I am giving is my understanding of the situation.

    Consider this analogy. Imagine that the Lancet reported that, in 92% of the cases, they asked families for a picture of the dead body and the family had one to show them. Now, not being from Iraq, I don’t have first hand evidence for doubting this claim. I don’t know Muslim/Iraqi culture. Perhaps taking/keeping such pictures is common, even expected.

    But, then IFHS comes along and does not ask to see these pictures. Why? sod and Eli ask. We know that these pictures exist since L1/L2 reported it. Why doesn’t IFHS ask to see them?

    Answer: Because IFHS does not bother to ask for things that they have reason to believe don’t exist. Now, maybe, they are stupid and you are smart. Maybe you know about the protocols for obtaining and keeping death certificates in Iraq and they do not. But if you want to know why they didn’t even bother to ask, then that is your answer. They would no more ask for death certificates than they would ask to see a picture of the dead body. Why ask for something that only a small percentage of families are likely to have handy?

    Again, I don’t know if that was a reasonable decision. I need to learn more about Iraqi death certificates. But if you want to know why IFHS did what it did, that’s why (at least as I understand the facts).

    eli rabbet writes:

    David Kane is either insanely lucky, deeply stupid or lying scum. Your choice. Everyone in the real world who loses someone in their family keeps multiple death certificates for a long time to handle the estate.

    Well, I guess that I am lucky. I have no death certificates in my house. But I am happy to learn something here. Would the vast majority of US households that suffer a death in the last 5 years have a copy of the death certificate easily accessible (by whomever happened to be home)? Perhaps. I know even less about US death certificate habits. (Sources welcome!) But I somewhat suspect that eli travels in somewhat refined social circles. Not every death in the US (much less Iraq) comes along with an “estate” to be settled.

  21. #21 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    sod writes:

    i am not sure, whether you understood the concept of excess deaths. it is “excess deaths over a certain, well defined, pre war level”. the paper is very clear about this concept. the number is used as a baseline for the period, but this is simply in absence of a better estimate.

    Just because you define excess deaths as such and such, does not mean that the whole wide world is forced to use your definition. Consider this use of the term in a totally different context, or here. Depending on the conversation and the purpose, it can be reasonable to use “excess deaths” to mean the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and those that would have occurred in some alternate world. It is fine for you and others to define the latter based on the actual death rate in Iraq in 2002 (or 2001-2002 or 1998–2002 or 1990-March 2003 or whenever) but others, like Posner, can define it differently.

    Again, I have no problem with the definition of excess deaths as used by L1/L2/IFHS/ILCS (although note that they are not all the same) but others are perfectly reasonable to use another definition. As long as we are clear on the meaning, I don’t see the problem.

  22. #22 sod
    November 25, 2008

    let me get this straight:

    you know absolutely nothing about death certificates in Iraq, but have decided that the Lancet completely invented everything they write about them?

    and let us look at your reason (that is, the single thing that you brought up to support your unsupported theory!)

    Because IFHS does not bother to ask for things that they have reason to believe don’t exist.

    anyone who ever took a look at the IFHS questionaire, will know, why they didn t ask for death certificates.

    http://tinyurl.com/5gvkkv

    hint: it is 20 pages long, and the question about death is on page 16 (sixteen!)

    if they were asking for certificates on the majority of their subjects, they would still be doing interviews in their first cluster…

  23. #23 sod
    November 25, 2008

    Just because you define excess deaths as such and such, does not mean that the whole wide world is forced to use your definition. Consider this use of the term in a totally different context, or here. Depending on the conversation and the purpose, it can be reasonable to use “excess deaths” to mean the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and those that would have occurred in some alternate world.

    there are pretty clear guidelines in science, about DEFINITIONS.

    i am pretty sure, that the Lancet one will be accepted by basically everyone in the scientific community.

    i am 100% sure, that yours, including an alternate reality, would be accepted by basically nobody.

    hey, this very blog is visited occasionally, by people who have some scientific experience. i hope you will share their medical bills, if they fell from their chairs laughing..

  24. #24 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    sod implies that he knows why IFHS did not ask for death certificates:

    if they were asking for certificates on the majority of their subjects, they would still be doing interviews in their first cluster…

    Did you ask the IFHS authors this? Did they tell you that they didn’t ask for death certificates because their survey was already too long?

    No. I bet you didn’t. At this point, you have two choices: You can ask them yourself or you can trust my report of what my communications with them indicate.

    And, by the way, according to L1/L2 asking to see the death certificates took a trivial amount of time. And, obviously, you only need to do that in the households with deaths.

  25. #25 sod
    November 25, 2008

    Did you ask the IFHS authors this? Did they tell you that they didn’t ask for death certificates because their survey was already too long?

    i didn t. i is an educated guess. slightly similar to the wild guess, that you did.

    the question is obvious: when asking for a death certificate (for question 1002), why not ask for birth certificates? (question 105) or wedding certificates? (108) or mortgage certificate (302) or some certificate on garbage collection (804)???

    And, by the way, according to L1/L2 asking to see the death certificates took a trivial amount of time. And, obviously, you only need to do that in the households with deaths.

    yes, this is a MAJOR advantage of a survey like Lancet, that concentrates on a single subject!
    your “analysis” missed this point, so far…

  26. #26 Crust
    November 25, 2008

    I have to say, I think sod’s hypothesis that the IFHS folks didn’t ask for death certificates because they were already asking 20 pages of questions is more plausible than David’s that they suspected that the Lancet study was fraudulent. (And even if that was the reason, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask for death certificates and thereby provide evidence for or against their suspicion?)

    That said, we really should just ask the IFHS authors. Does anyone know/correspond with them?

  27. #27 moonman
    November 25, 2008

    Please keep in mind what Kane is about. He claimed, long ago and without any evidence, that the first Lancet study was fraudulent. Yes, he made the most serious charge possible in scientific discussion with no evidence whatsoever. His entire existence since then has been driven by his need to defend this basically indefensible position. He is not engaged in serious debate and exchange and learning. He is simply trying to salvage a shred of credibility, which he continually fails to do. He regularly makes a fool of himself in this manner. But that is all he is about. That is all.

  28. #28 sod
    November 25, 2008

    (And even if that was the reason, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask for death certificates and thereby provide evidence for or against their suspicion?)

    very good point.

    That said, we really should just ask the IFHS authors. Does anyone know/correspond with them?

    actually, i believe David, if he says that he did. and i even believe, that he got the reply he gave us.

    but why would you take their word for it?

    would it change anything, if we asked Roberts or Burnham, about their opinion on the existence death certificates in Iraq?

  29. #29 Crust
    November 25, 2008

    sod: actually, i believe David, if he says that he did. and i even believe, that he got the reply he gave us.

    Oops, you’re right. I believe David too. I’d missed David’s earlier comment:

    You can ask them yourself or you can trust my report of what my communications with them indicate.

    David, my apologies. For some reason, I’d misread you as guessing. I suppose it’s possible that the IFHS authors had somehow missed the fact that the Lancet authors had asked for death certificates, and independently guessed that most Iraqis didn’t have death certificates.

  30. #30 sod
    November 25, 2008

    I suppose it’s possible that the IFHS authors had somehow missed the fact that the Lancet authors had asked for death certificates, and independently guessed that most Iraqis didn’t have death certificates.

    the timeline is important here:

    1. Lancet 2 study asks for death certificates.

    2. plenty of criticism, partly on the death certificates subject.

    3. IFHS study does not ask for (any?) certificates.

    4. more criticism, comparison between the two surveys.

    5. David asks IFHS team, why they didn t ask for the certificates. they can t redo the survey, and are aware of the discussion.

  31. #31 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    The IFHS authors are well aware “that the Lancet authors had asked for death certificates.” L1 came out months before the planning for IFHS even started. The IFHS authors, despite this knowledge, choose not to ask for death certificates. I have communicated with an/some author(s) on this point, just I have communicated with L1/L2 authors on various points. I only quote someone when I have permission to do so.

    My understanding is that IFHS authors do not think that, if you asked to see death certificates in Iraq, you would actually get very many affirmative responses. That’s why they didn’t bother to ask. (But, again, I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people on this topic, so there is a (small) chance that I am wrong.)

  32. #32 sod
    November 25, 2008

    here is, what Lancet 1 says about the death certificates:

    Within clusters, an attempt was made to confirm at
    least two reported non-infant deaths by asking to see the
    death certificate. Interviewers were initially reluctant to
    ask to see death certificates because this might have
    implied they did not believe the respondents, perhaps
    triggering violence. Thus, a compromise was reached
    for which interviewers would attempt to confirm at least
    two deaths per cluster. Confirmation was sought to
    ensure that a large fraction of the reported deaths were
    not fabrications. Death certificates usually did not exist
    for infant deaths and asking for such certificates would
    probably inflate the fraction of respondents who could
    not confirm reported deaths. The death certificates were
    requested at the end of the interview so that respondents
    did not know that confirmation would be sought as they
    reported deaths. We defined infant deaths as deaths
    happening in the first 365 days after birth.

    http://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/reports/lancet04.pdf

    and here is lancet 2:

    The registration of deaths in Iraq has been an organized process for many years. Death certificates have traditionally been obtained for the deaths of all adults and older children. Death certificates are required for insurance claims, compensation, payment of benefits, and for burial. Cemeteries do not take bodies for burial without certificates. If deaths occurred outside of hospital, the bodies would be transported to the general hospital for the certificate to be issued. If there were doubts about the cause of death, a post-mortem examination would be carried out before issuing a certificate.
    Copies of the death certificates would go to the national offices managing vital registration. This process has continued through the current conflict, with death certificates being required for burial, and with information from certificates being duly recorded. However, the tabulation of data from registration of deaths in Iraq has suffered from the chaos of the current conflict. Beyond this, there is also a suspicion that records of death, particularly related to violent deaths, is being manipulated and only partially being released for various political reasons.

    good experiences made in Lancet 1. extended in Lancet 2. explanation, by specialists on the subject. sounds very plausible to me.

  33. #33 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    Tim,

    Can you give more details on exactly how you construct this chart? Consider the ORB estimate of 1.2 million. ORB covers the period through August 31, 2007 (or is it August 1?) at 1,033,000. I see the IBC at 93,500 now. So, this means that you have the IBC count on August 31, 2007 at 80,500. That is:

    (93,500/80,500) * 1,033,000 = 1,200,000

    80,500 seems a fair estimate for August 31, 2007 according to this data.

    Again, I just want to ensure that I understand what you are doing.

  34. #34 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    Assuming I understand the mechanics, there are two main problems with this table.

    First, ORB is a fundamentally flawed survey. But let’s save that debate for another day.

    Second, you report the L2 and IFHS surveys using fundamentally different adjustments. This isn’t (obviously) your fault but there is no doubt that the raw number of deaths in the two surveys is radically different. (Same issue applies to L1.) In particular, IFHS adjusts for underreporting and too-dangerous-to-visit clusters while L1/L2 do not. If you reported IFHS using the assumptions of L1/L2, the number would be 148,000.

    Full discussion here.

  35. #35 David Kane
    November 25, 2008

    The other key problem with this table is that one of the rows ignores Anbar and the others do not. (Tim: Please correct me if I am wrong.) This is highly suspect since L1 presents estimates for violent deaths for all of Iraq and all of Iraq minus Anbar. If you want to (fairly!) compare L1 with, say, IFHS and ILCS, it is wrong to exclude Anbar from L1 while including it for the others.

    As we all recall, including Anbar roughly triples the number of violent deaths for L1. So, your table ought to list approximately 960,000 as the L1 estimate.

    Putting all my comments together, I think that a fair description is that the surveys are in two groups, around 150,000 for ILCS, IFHS and a million or more for L1, L2 and ORB.

    The key point is that the survey results are much more divergent than your table makes them out to be.

  36. #36 Tim Lambert
    November 26, 2008

    David, I report all the surveys using the adjustments that authors of the studies felt were best. The IFHS and Lancet surveys have different designs. One was a survey into many aspects of health with many questions, while one was just focussed on mortality. There is no reason to think that they would have the same underreporting of mortality and every reason to think that they would be different.

    I’ll try to compute an estimate from L1 that includes Anbar, but I won’t use the data from that single Falluja cluster.

  37. #37 Tim Lambert
    November 26, 2008

    An IBC report found that for 2003-2005, 7.5% of deaths were in Anbar, so the L1 estimate for violent deaths will increase by 1/(1-7.5%) = 8%, from 320,000 to 350,000.

  38. #38 David Kane
    November 26, 2008

    Tim,

    In (fairly) making a table like this, you have several reasonable options.

    1) Report the main headline number in each report.

    2) Take the main headline numbers and extrapolate them.

    3) Dive into the details of each report (even using data from outside the reports themselves), picking out different numbers from each report and then, honestly, trying to make them comparable, and then extrapolate them in the same way.

    You (reasonably) don’t do 1) and then don’t do 2). That’s the key point. There is no headline (or even reported!) number of violent deaths in L1. There is no headline (or even reported!) number of non-violent deaths in IFHS. In order to get those numbers (and details of how you did so would be appreciated), you had to dive into the guts of the report (and even other news stories?) to pick out the appropriate numbers.

    And, for the most part, you have done a fair job. Although I would like to double check the details, I think that your 740,000 excess deaths for IFHS is reasonable. But in order to come up with that number, you needed to do way more than simple “using the adjustments that authors of the studies felt were best.” IFHS presents no excess deaths estimate. You had to derive it from the raw data in the report.

    So, once we are in the realm of option 3), the question becomes: Would a fair-minded person use the with-Anbar or without-Anbar estimate for L1? Note that the L1 authors do not totally ignore the Anbar data (from the one Falluja cluster). Indeed, statements from the abstract like: “Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children.” and “Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces
    accounted for most violent deaths.” are only true if you include Falluja.

    So, if you want to make a fair table, one that involves diving into the nitty-gritty details of the studies, it would be reasonable to include data from Anbar in all the studies. It would also be reasonable to exclude data from Anbar for all the studies. It is not reasonable to exclude Anbar from one study but not from the other the other 4.

    By the way, the 960,000 number I give in #35 is probably wrong. I need to think a bit about what a fair number would be.

  39. #39 Tim Lambert
    November 26, 2008

    For the IFHS excess deaths I used the number given by one of the authors, as reported by *Mother Jones*. Similarly for L1 violent deaths , I used the number reported by one of the authors. I’ve changed the estimate of L1 violent deaths to include an estimate for Anbar as well — the number is now 350,000.

  40. #40 gator
    November 26, 2008

    David Kane–
    If this is what you really know about death certificates:
    _I have no death certificates in my house. But I am happy to learn something here. Would the vast majority of US households that suffer a death in the last 5 years have a copy of the death certificate easily accessible (by whomever happened to be home)? Perhaps. I know even less about US death certificate habits._

    How in the world could you have written this??
    _My understanding is that IFHS did not “look into death certificates” for the same reason that you or I would not do the same if we were doing a similar survey in the US, i.e., the vast majority of people don’t keep death certificates._

    You admit you know nothing about the death certificates in the US or Iraq, so how about not posting statements out of ignorance? Just don’t comment.

  41. #41 Jeff Harvey
    November 27, 2008

    In response to Barton’s question, yes, if international forces were deployed in a humanitarian initiative, I would support action to help the people of Darfur. But let’s get something straight: over the past 60 years, US forces have been spending a lot more time in various places around the world killing people rather than saving them.

    Again, its obvious you haven’t done any reading of declassified files, but I suggest that you do. What you’d find is that US foreign policy has been generally aimed at propping up coporate and political elites in developing countries, particularly in Latin America, and undermining democratic reform (by this I mean bottom-up forms of democracy) wherever and whenever it has threatened to take hold. What is especially enlightening is to read planning documents from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, those at the allegedly ‘dovish liberal’ end of the spectrum. During those years, there was a marked shift in policy that was aimed at increasig support for military regimes and dictatorships that were battling independent nationalism (convenientlky called ‘communism’) across large swathes of central and South America. In the words of Noam Chomsky, the bane of those who propound the ‘basic benevolence’ and ‘radical innocence’ of the Unted States:

    “In the traditional domains of U.S. power, the same formula led to Kennedy’s shift of the mission of the Latin American military from ‘hemispheric defense’ — a holdover from the Second World War — to ‘internal security’. The consequences were immediate. In the words of Charles Maechling — who led U.S. counterinsurgency and internal defense planning through the Kennedy and early Johnson years — U.S. policy shifted from toleration ‘of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military’ to ‘direct complicity’ in their crimes, to U.S. support for ‘the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads’.

    One critical case was the Kennedy administration’s preparation of the military coup in Brazil to overthrow the mildly social democratic Goulart government. The planned coup took place shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, establishing the first of a series of vicious National Security States and setting off a plague of repression throughout the continent that lasted through Reagan’s terrorist wars that devastated Central America in the 1980s. With the same justification, Kennedy’s 1962 military mission to Colombia advised the government to resort to ‘paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents’, actions that ‘should be backed by the United States’. In the Latin American context, the phrase ‘known communist proponents’ referred to labor leaders, priests organizing peasants, human rights activists, in fact anyone committed to social change in violent and repressive societies”.

    Why so many loathe Chomsky is because he reads volumes and volumes of declassified files and draws his concluions based on them. Note the quotations above – not his, but those of senior planners who outline US policies.

    An article in the Christian Science Monitor takes this further –

    “Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment Program on Law and Democracy, and former Reagan-era State Department official, writes in his new book, ‘Critical Mission: Essays on Democracy Promotion’, that what is now taking place in the Middle East echoes cold-war efforts”:

    ‘Where democracy appears to fit in well with US security and economic interests, the United States promotes democracy’, Carothers concludes. ‘Where democracy clashes with other significant interests, it is downplayed or even ignored’.

    Again, straight form the horse’s mouth.

  42. #42 Barton Paul Levenson
    November 27, 2008

    Jeff Harvey writes:

    Again, its obvious you haven’t done any reading of declassified files, but I suggest that you do.

    It’s amazing how you can know what I read or don’t read without ever asking me or having any other source of information on the subject. Telepathy?

    In the words of Noam Chomsky, the bane of those who propound the ‘basic benevolence’ and ‘radical innocence’ of the Unted States:

    I don’t propound either the “basic benevolence” or the “radical innocence” of the United States. But I suppose it’s easier to argue against the opponent you’d like to have than a real one.

  43. #43 Jeff Harvey
    November 27, 2008

    Barton, you earlier said, “I think the idea of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a good one”.

    Let’s put the show on the other foot now. Do you think it was right of the United States to support, both economically and militarily (as it did), the regimes of:

    Pinochet, Mbutu, Montt, Armas, Duarte, Dubisson, The Duvaliers, Marcos, Suharto, Somosza, Batista, Diem, The Shah, and a whole long list of other rogue leaders and mass murdering states? How abourt Saddam? If I had asked you the same question in 1987, what would you have answered? That he’s ‘our kind of guy’? Are you like Madeline Albright, who in front of a national television audience in 1996 told interviewer Leslie Stahl that the price of US-UK sanctions on Iraq, estimated to be upwards of half a million victims by that time, including many children, was ‘worth it’, all things being considered?

    So I ask you this: How many lives in Iraq were ‘worth the cost’ of deposing Saddam? A hundred thousand? A million? How many? You said that ‘it was a good idea’, ignoring what it was all about (as elegantly stated by Bernard J in an earlier post) and what has been written innumerable times before by senior US government planners: THE REGION IS THE GREATEST MATERIAL PRIZE IN HISTORY AND A SOURCE OF STUPENDOUS STRATEGIC POWER. If you are saying it was a good idea bbecause of the REAL reason (American hegemony over a region of critical importance to the global economy), then that is fine by me. At least it would show that you are telling the truth.

  44. #44 David
    November 28, 2008

    Tim writes

    For the IFHS excess deaths I used the number given by one of the authors, as reported by Mother Jones. Similarly for L1 violent deaths , I used the number reported by one of the authors.

    Could you tell us what those numbers are and be a bit more precise on the sourcing? I don’t doubt you on this (you always get these details correct), but I want to be able to cite them directly myself.

    Also, it would be great if you told us the exact end-dates (and corresponding IBC totals) that you used. Again, I believe that you are correct, but just want to replicate everything myself. For example, did you use a June 30, 2006 end date for L2. That would be reasonable, although, of course, they did include some deaths from July in their total.

  45. #45 Barton Paul Levenson
    November 28, 2008

    Jeff Harvey writes:

    Barton, you earlier said, “I think the idea of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a good one”.

    Let’s put the show on the other foot now. Do you think it was right of the United States to support, both economically and militarily (as it did), the regimes of:

    Pinochet, Mbutu, Montt, Armas, Duarte, Dubisson, The Duvaliers, Marcos, Suharto, Somosza, Batista, Diem, The Shah, and a whole long list of other rogue leaders and mass murdering states?

    What does any of that have to do with what I said? The US did bad things, therefore it can’t do a good thing? The court finds itself unable to follow the alleged reasoning.

    As for your implication that I am not telling the truth — go fuck yourself, eh?

  46. #46 Jeff Harvey
    November 28, 2008

    Barton,

    For heaven’s sake, grow up. I was just appalled that, given that the US has turned Iraq into a veritable hell-hole, that anyone could be pompous or arrogant enough, given the suffering there, to say, “I think the idea of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a good one”. Its damned easy to say that from where you are sitting. If the shoe was on the other foot you wouldn’t make such a frankly stupid assertion. I also didn’t say you weren’t telling the truth. You just don’t seem to be able to say what the truth is – even in ‘your view’. I think its been made pretty clear what the US agenda is in the Middle East olver the past 50 years, as I exaplined in my last post, and you and many other defenders of the US invasion of Iraq just seem to have an aversion to facing up to it.

    The you write something even more unvelieveable: “The US did bad things, therefore it can’t do a good thing?”. The US has had a recent history of doing a hell of lot of bad things, things which on the face of it look like the rule rather than the exception. These things suggest that successive US governments, and the elite interests they appear to serve, don’t give a jot about human life, freedom or democracy. Given that actions to help the millions suffering in Darfur don’t have an apparent profit motive attached to them, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the world’s biggest hyperpower to act to help. As Bernard said, if Iraq’s main export had been broccoli, the US would not have invaded the country.

    As for your childish advice, I pass on it.

  47. #47 Barton Paul Levenson
    November 29, 2008

    Okay, Jeff, let me be absolutely clear, so clear that even you can’t distort what I’m saying.

    I think overthrowing genocidal dictators is a good idea. Saddam was a genocidal dictator, therefore he needed to be overthrown.

    You seem to think the occupation of Iraq could only have been conducted as it actually was. That is just plain ignorant. The US has conducted very successful occupations in the past, such as those of Germany and Japan. It could have done so in Iraq if the Bush administration hadn’t made a series of boneheaded mistakes.

    1. We should have used at least three times as many troops as we actually used. They didn’t anticipate an insurgency and they should have.

    2. They should never have fired the Iraqi army before disarming them. That was the step that made the insurgency as successful as it was.

    3. Looting should have been stopped from day one, not allowed to continue. Allowing it not only destroyed infrastructure, but gave the Iraqi citizenry the impression that the occupiers didn’t care what they did.

    4. As in Japan, a constitution should have been imposed, not allowed to grow in a situation where the three main ethnic groups have never agreed on anything in the history of the world.

    5. Coalition troops should have been thoroughly briefed in Iraqi culture and speed-taught the Arabic language as spoken in Iraq. In Japan US soldiers were ordered never to insult the Emperor or to have an argument where a Japanese citizen was not permitted a face-saving way out if he/she lost. In Iraq soldiers directing traffic should have been taught the Iraqi police method, which was to quietly talk to the offender and suggest a solution, rather than the American style of “Get that fucking hack the FUCK out of that lane, Mister!”

    6. Publicly identified leaders of the insurgency should have been taken out immediately (yes, I mean Moqtada al-Sadr, among others). That was the strategy that destroyed the “Werwolf” insurgency in occupied Germany. You don’t try to compromise with people who are trying to kill you.

    If we had followed the above, which are not original with me but can be found in any military counter-insurgency manual in the world, the damage and loss of life in Iraq could have been considerably less.

  48. #48 sod
    November 29, 2008

    barton, the majority of the points you made above make sense.

    they should have been applied, but not in Iraq.
    they should have been used in Afghanistan, the other war, that was running high (and starting to get out of control already, when the US decided to invade Iraq.

    the decision to go to war, currently should be made by checking the Powell doctrine.

    http://tinyurl.com/yrykkl

    The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:

    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
    4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
    7. Is the action supported by the American people?
    8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

    the war in Iraq did not fullfill a single of those criteria.

    the most important thing to consider is this (hidden in criteria 2 and 5): any war started by choice MUST be WON.

    the US never had any chance to win the war in Iraq, while it was busy elsewhere.

    ———————

    Publicly identified leaders of the insurgency should have been taken out immediately (yes, I mean Moqtada al-Sadr, among others). That was the strategy that destroyed the “Werwolf” insurgency in occupied Germany. You don’t try to compromise with people who are trying to kill you.

    al-Sadr is a political and religious leader. killing him never was an option and never should be.

    there was no werewolf movement in germany after the war. it is a myth. no leaders were killed, neither did this stop the movement.

  49. #49 sod
    November 29, 2008

    some more short comments on your points

    The US has conducted very successful occupations in the past, such as those of Germany and Japan. It could have done so in Iraq if the Bush administration hadn’t made a series of boneheaded mistakes.

    the situation in germany was very different. there never was a chance, of the state falling apart, or ethnic/religious infighting.

    We should have used at least three times as many troops as we actually used. They didn’t anticipate an insurgency and they should have.

    this would have been much better. but there wouldn t have been any war, if this option had been chosen. telling the truth to the people (we need three times the troops, and the majority of them for 5 years…) would have been the end of any war-plan against iraq.

    the war did only happen, because the Bush administration lied about the troop requirements.

    They should never have fired the Iraqi army before disarming them. That was the step that made the insurgency as successful as it was.

    several errors were made while handling the iraqi army. BUT: i doubt that US soldiers were sending prisoners home with their guns. and they couldn t do anything about the arms of those, they didn t catch.

    the right thing to do, would have been to continue to pay them, and a quick retraining of many of them for police jobs.

    but this task alone would hve been so complicated, that any serious planning on it, would have lead to abandoning the war all together.

    Looting should have been stopped from day one, not allowed to continue. Allowing it not only destroyed infrastructure, but gave the Iraqi citizenry the impression that the occupiers didn’t care what they did.

    100% true. and with significantly more soldiers, the majority of looting could have been stopped.

    the problem again, apart from a lack of planning, was the feeling that anything that hurt Iraq was a good thing.

    As in Japan, a constitution should have been imposed, not allowed to grow in a situation where the three main ethnic groups have never agreed on anything in the history of the world.

    no. this is the year 2008, not 1945. things have changed. people all over the world (and muslims especially) would simply NOT accept a US draft of a constitution. and rightly so.

    the major difference between Iraq and germany/japan, is, that the latter countries lost a war, that they started the war. the question of guilt had an obvious answer. the countries had to accept, what ever the victorious side dictated.

    the situation is a completely different one, when the US starts a war against iraq (and for dubious reasons..)

    Coalition troops should have been thoroughly briefed in Iraqi culture and speed-taught the Arabic language as spoken in Iraq.

    very true again. but again, the complexity of this task, would have been the end of war plans.

    btw, there is a terrible brain-drain happening to the US army, right at this moment. clever soldiers and thinking soldiers are leaving the army in droves.
    training language to the utterly uneducated remains, will be a very hard task..

    If we had followed the above, which are not original with me but can be found in any military counter-insurgency manual in the world, the damage and loss of life in Iraq could have been considerably less.

    what you describe, are rather political things. i doubt that they will show up in counter insurgency manuals.

    the new (post iraq..) one of the US army can be found online and makes for some rather interesting reading….

    http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-24fd.pdf

  50. #50 Barton Paul Levenson
    November 30, 2008

    sod writes:

    there was no werewolf movement in germany after the war. it is a myth. no leaders were killed, neither did this stop the movement.

    My brother is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, currently serving in Iraq. He tells me World War II vets have related to him accounts of standing Werwolf officers against the wall and shooting them in Germany in 1945-46. The Werwolf movement was tiny and had no major effect on the occupation, but one of the reasons for that was that it was ruthlessly crushed wherever it showed up.

  51. #51 Jeff Harvey
    November 30, 2008

    Barton, Many thamks for your reply. I appreciate it. But you still have not answered my question, which is:

    Given the historical record of the United States in supporting vile regimes and despots in many continents over many years, why do you think ther US went to war with Iraq, given the full support the Saddam Hussein regime got when it committed its worst atrocities during the 1980s? The reason should be patently obvious, but you never seem able to get around to it. On your blog site, I read a section called “A letter to Osama Bin Laden” where you suggest that the reason the US attacked Iraq (as well as Afghanistan) was connected with terrorism. Do you honestly believe this?
    I think the agenda is patently obvious, and has nix to do wioth terrorism. In fact, Bush and co. knew that by attacking these countries that the threat of terrosism would increase. Many studies made this clear. So what is the real agenda? Isn’t it obvious by now, given the historical record?

    There’s no doubt that Saddam’s regime was an atrocity, a vile dictatroship. But so were many of the others that got US backing pretty well right up until the end of their tenures. Doesn’t this make the US guilty to some extent by association? By support? As an accessory? And given the number of people killed during the illegal Iraq war (something else you seem to have an aversion discussing) – between 300,000 and 1 million, with another 4 million internally displaced, doesn’t this make the US also culpable of genocide, or at least mass murder? Don’t the victims of past US atrcoities around the world lead to a similar conclusion? If not, why not? Why are the victims of US carpet bombing of Cambodia, Viet Nam, Korea, as well as the invasion of Panama (3,000 dead) or, going back to the invasion of the Phillipines in 1899-1902, another 500,000 million dead in the case (or more) not counted when you talk of ‘genocidal’? Is it that the victims of our killing are ‘unworthy’ whereas when we or our proxies are attacked the victims are ‘worthy’? If you can conjure up such a simplisitic argument that the US does some ‘bad things’ but can also do ‘good things’, then explain why the US so often does ‘bad things’. What are the motives? Knowing that Suharto was one of the biggest torturers and mass murderers in the latter half of the 20th century, why didn’t the US invade Indonesia to overthrow this ‘genocidal dictator’, instead of supporting him almost to the very end? Why was Saddam supported in full knowledge of his crimes? And this brings me back to the beginning: why did the US invade Iraq? What was the primary motive? Are you capable of answering some of these questions? Give it a shot!

  52. #52 Bernard J.
    November 30, 2008

    Barton, I have immense respect for most of your postings, and on the rare matters where I have divergent views I usually stay my commenting, but I find myself wondering at your take on things Middle-eastern. I am with sod on the issue of Iraq, and I feel that there are a number of internal inconsistencies and other problems with you view. Most I won’t repeat because sod and Jeff have already made the points, but there are some I feel need a bit more airing.

    I think overthrowing genocidal dictators is a good idea.

    Fine, but whom decides who is a ‘genocidal dictator’? And how, from a wide range of potential methods, such dictators should be overthrown? And at what point violent force should be included in the overthrowing? And what degree ‘collateral damage’ is acceptable? (Is it OK if the cure is worse than the disease?)

    And how collaborators, present or past, should be brought to account for their parts in any such dictator’s capacity to execute his/her genocide?

    Looting should have been stopped from day one, not allowed to continue. Allowing it not only destroyed infrastructure, but gave the Iraqi citizenry the impression that the occupiers didn’t care what they did.

    Barton, it gave the world the impression that the occupiers didn’t care what they did, and as a citizen of two of the countries in the Coalition of the Willing, listening to the talking heads in said countries, I have to say that in many instances such impressions were correct.

    The simple fact is that if they had cared, the looting would not have been allowed.

    But beyond the fact of ‘impressions’, the looting was a crime against humanity. It has destroyed and/or robbed both Iraq and the rest of the world of a huge swath of the discovered and never-now-to-be-discovered history and the archaeology of the Cradle of Civilisation. Generations in the future will shake their heads in complete disbelief at the way in which such ill-advised stupidity was allowed to occur. Human toll aside, the cost to all of us is profound, even if we aren’t aware of this cost.

    Any force that undertook such an excursion (especially on the chocolate-wheel of pretexts proffered) without a forward understanding of this, and without adequate preparation to minimise such vandalism, is obviously not competent to be undertaking such adventures in the first place.

    Coalition troops should have been thoroughly briefed in Iraqi culture and speed-taught the Arabic language as spoken in Iraq. In Japan US soldiers were ordered never to insult the Emperor or to have an argument where a Japanese citizen was not permitted a face-saving way out if he/she lost. In Iraq soldiers directing traffic should have been taught the Iraqi police method, which was to quietly talk to the offender and suggest a solution, rather than the American style of “Get that fucking hack the FUCK out of that lane, Mister!”

    Replace ‘troops’ and ‘soldiers’ with ‘leaders’, ‘generals’ and ‘media’, and you might have a better strategy.

    Seriously, the United States had no understanding, nor any desire to acquire such, of the cultural milieu into which it was jumping. Had the apparent ‘shining example’ to the rest of the world taken the time to apply cultural paradigms appropriate to countries other than itself, it might have found that it didn’t need to take overbearing action in a manner ‘appropriate’ to itself.

    The trouble is, most USAdians haven’t been to Rome.

    For pity’s sake, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that one day someone had made “Middle-Eastern Vacation”, and with a little less of the self-deprecating irony than might be necessary.

    Publicly identified leaders of the insurgency should have been taken out immediately (yes, I mean Moqtada al-Sadr, among others)

    Again, on whose say-so would such leaders be ‘taken out’, and upon what internationally recognised authority would it be done? And what of the fact that many people, whether you like it or not, do not see ‘leaders of insurgency’, but rather ‘leaders of resistance’, or ‘leaders of the national pride’, or ‘leaders-who-have-bloody-well-looked-after-me-and-mine-no-matter-what-the-foreign-media-and-governments-have-told-their-countries’?’

    It seems that having urged cultural understanding in your point 5, you don’t actually apply it practise to your approach to engaging with the country. If nothing else can make you see this it might be worth considering that the true strength of a country, or a body of countries, is not how they use their might but how they refrain from using it.

    (As an aside, I have always wondered why it was necessary to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki, when dropping the same bombs on empty farmland or just off the coast would probably have served the same “shock and awe” purpose which seems to be the want of the government and military. For heaven’s sake, they could have given it a week, and if it didn’t work then have flown over again with a couple more. It probably would have saved those hundreds of thousands of lives…)

    My brother is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, currently serving in Iraq. He tells me World War II vets have related to him accounts of standing Werwolf officers against the wall and shooting them in Germany in 1945-46.

    On whose authority was this claimed to have been done? Without appropriate scrutiny and solid authority, this sounds like it would be a war-crime to me.

  53. #53 Bernard J.
    November 30, 2008

    Barton, I have just noticed that Jeff has responded too, in a somewhat similar vein to my last post.

    Lest you think that we are being confrontational I would like to reiterate that I said what I did with the upmost respect for you: I simply find it difficult to reconcile the considered reasoning that you apply to so many other areas, to the bombastic approach with respect to matters in the Middle-East.

    I really can’t help but wonder that, if we could turn the names of the countries around, you might not have a different take on these matters.

  54. #54 Sortition
    November 30, 2008

    Bernard J.,

    I can’t help suggesting that Levenson’s “bombastic approach” is not limited to the matter at hand. See his contributions to a discussion regarding the matter of energy over-consumption and offsetting.

  55. #55 Jeff Harvey
    December 1, 2008

    Bernard, as usual you make some excellent, well thought out comments. I appreciate your candidness on these issues, as well as on the many others, such as climate change, with which you make on this site.

    Its not that I want to paint Barton into a corner, as his posts on climate change are very intuitive and appreciated by this poster. But I find it hard to stomach comments such as, “If the US can do bad things, why can’t it do good things”? The answer to this flippant point should be obvious. What it boils down to is that we. in the west, often find it difficult, or even impossible, to apply the same economic/military/strategic motives to our own governments/allies/proxies that we routinely apply to ‘officially designated enemies’. Thus, whereas our MSM is exceedingly wary of the motives of countries like China and Russia (and for good reason), when it comes to the actions and motives of our governments they are given a free pass. Thus the motives of our countries are usually suggested as being ostensibly benign in nature e.g. our foreign policies are based on exporting democracy, freedom, human rights etc. The real agendas are seldom aired, or they are juxtaposed with the noble ones, to give the ideas that our policy makers are trying to balance economic and humanitarian needs, hence the new term ‘humanitartian imperialism’.

    As I have said innumerable times, planners have spelled out the real agenda in planning documents, many of which are accessible in any library. One of the nice things about living in such open societies as the US and UK is that the older planning files (more than 30 years old) are declassified and thus many are in the public domain. But the story they tell is an alarming one and demolishes as myths the arguments promulgated by our MSM and governments of our ‘basic benevolence’. They show that our political and corporate elites, which possess a huge amount of power, covet the wealth of other nations, and that many of our policies are aimed at profit repatriation, nullification of alternative economic programmes and outright expansionism. They also explain why we so often do “bad things” – because it is in the political and profit making interests of our corporations to do so by supporting limited top down forms of government in third world countries with which we have long been allied. Many of these countries have horrific human rights records, but because of this thery tend to be good places in which to invest, because ‘overheads’ (e.g. wages, regulations, etc.) are minimal. At the same time, this means that the aspirations of many countries to break free of the neoliberal model (the ‘Washington Consensus’) are crushed.

    In summary, just wish we could apply the same standards to the actions of our own countries that we apply to others. When Barton says that we do some “bad things” it seems to stop there; on the other hand the actions of our enemies are often described as ‘genocidal’. In truth, as the historical record shows if we were to play more attention to it, the actions of our own governments have also been ‘genocidal'; they are also culpable of terror, mass murder, and immense suffering in many countries. These policies are ongoing, and have rarely been interrupted over the past century.

  56. #56 Damocles
    December 2, 2008

    “Publicly identified leaders of the insurgency should have been taken out immediately (yes, I mean Moqtada al-Sadr, among others). That was the strategy that destroyed the “Werwolf” insurgency in occupied Germany. You don’t try to compromise with people who are trying to kill you.”

    Yes publicly murdering a revered religious leader with a history of opposing the dictator you just overthrew and with hundreds of thousands of armed supporters will obviously bring about peace and tranquility.

    Why not kill Sistani as well seeing as his supporters in the Badr Brigades have perpetrated far more violence than the Madhi Army?

  57. #57 Damocles
    December 2, 2008

    Most Arab countries practice a form of household registration,

    I assume Iraq was no exception.

    The household registration system requires all residents to register their home address with the local police.

    Moving without changing your registration is a criminal offence. Failing to report that a member of your household has moved is a criminal offence.

    Do people begin to understand why Iraqi households are likely to retain the death certificated of former household members?

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