Leading article: The true measure of the US and British failure

Share

One of the many shameful aspects of the war in Iraq has been the failure of US and British forces to register civilian casualties. Both the US and the British authorities insist that they have no obligation to do so - and, if this is correct, that should surely change. But the absence of any reliable figures has had several malign effects.

It conveys the impression, first, that the invaders have scant regard for Iraqi lives. The US and British forces, rightly, count their own dead meticulously; they give them flag-draped coffins and military funerals. Those Iraqis whose lives have been cut short, however, are simply not recognised as casualties of the war. They are seen, in that disgraceful term, as no more than collateral damage. Like the pictures from Abu Ghraib, the lack of authoritative figures for Iraqi deaths discredits the elevated humanitarian motives that the US and Britain cited as justification for military action.

Second, the lack of any record of civilian casualties is tantamount to concealment. It means that information about Iraqi deaths is elusive unless a reporter happens to be there at the time. It also means that any figures that are produced can be dismissed as inaccurate. It makes it easier for those who choose to do so to close their eyes to the whole human cost of the invasion.

Third, the lack of an official record fosters inaccuracy. Late last year, the British medical publication, The Lancet, published an article estimating civilian casualties in Iraq as in excess of 100,000. That figure had been reached by extrapolating from a small sample of incidents and locations. While never completely discredited, those figures were widely doubted, allowing the authorities in the US and Britain to dismiss them as propaganda. That this was an honest effort to estimate civilian casualties and had been undertaken to fill a lamentable gap in the records, was thereby obscured.

Now, with the publication of a survey by the non-government US and British group, Iraq Body Count, we probably have the most accurate and responsible estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties we are likely to get. According to IBC, almost 25,000 Iraqis have been killed as a direct result of the US-led intervention in the two years to March 2005. Of these, it found, more than one third were killed by US-led forces, another third by "criminals", and one-tenth by "insurgents". The definition of civilians includes army and police recruits and serving police, but not serving military or combatants.

The 25,000 tally closely matches the findings of a UN-funded study last year, which estimated conflict-related deaths at 24,000 since the invasion. Because the IBC survey relies to a large extent on figures from Baghdad and the surrounding area, however, it may understate the toll. Understated or not, the numbers compiled by the IBC expose the grievous human cost of the US-led invasion and the ill-planned occupation that followed.

And the prognosis, alas, is for worse. A breakdown of the figures shows that almost one third of civilian deaths occurred during the initial invasion - a combination of air strikes and ground advances that the US had presented as so accurate, clinical and high-tech that the civilian death toll would be negligible. But while some 6,000 civilians died in the first year of the occupation, the human cost of the second year was almost double that, as the violence steadily increased.

The recent proliferation of suicide attacks augurs badly for any fall in civilian casualties in the near future. If the US and Britain intended to make Iraq freer and safer, not only for the benefit of the outside world but for the benefit of Iraqis, this survey shows just how disastrously they have failed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there