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The real benchmarks in Iraq

September 14, 2007 | Page 5

ALAN MAASS compiles the statistics about Iraq that Congress ought to be examining.

TO THE surprise of exactly no one, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, revealed this month that he believes the situation in U.S.-occupied Iraq is "improving."

Petraeus' parade of appearances was supposed to assess the situation after the escalation of U.S. troop strength ordered by his boss, George Bush. Since January, 28,500 new U.S. troops have "surged" into Iraq, bringing the total to 162,000 soldiers by mid-August--an all-time high, surpassing the troop count during the invasion itself.

"Naturally enough," Tom Engelhardt of wrote in drawing up the terrible balance sheet of the occupation, "other 'all-time highs' of the grimmest sort follow."

The real benchmarks about Iraq that members of Congress ought to be examining tell a very different story.

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More than 1 million Iraqis killed.

The only scientific survey of Iraqi casualties since the U.S. invasion--as opposed to estimates based on often inaccurate death counts from hospital morgues, media reports or official Iraqi government figures--was carried out by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

What else to read

One indispensable source of information on the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the war on terror in general is TomDispatch, the Web site run by Tom Engelhardt (which was the source for a lot of the information in this article). Engelhardt's latest "by the numbers" report on Iraq, titled "Launching Brand Petraeus," is a must-read.

For daily news updates and analysis of Iraq, see the Electronic Iraq Web site, as well as Juan Cole's Informed Comment Web site.

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail's articles and commentary on the Middle East are available at Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches Web site. His book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, will be published later this year by Haymarket Books. You can preorder it now through

The crucial book on Iraq for antiwar activists is Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, now republished in an updated paperback edition from the American Empire Project with a foreword by Howard Zinn.

Two other books that provide valuable information and analysis about the U.S. occupation and the ensuing civil war are Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq and Nir Rosen's In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of Martyrs.


The survey found that 655,000 more Iraqis died in the period since the invasion than would have been expected under pre-war conditions. The vast majority of these "excess deaths" were from violent causes, such as gunfire, air strikes and bombs.

The survey was completed in spring 2006. If the same trends continued in the months after, the number of Iraqis killed as a result of the U.S. war would be over 1 million as of this fall, according to Engelhardt.

And it is possible that the Iraqi death rate has picked up speed. According to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, estimates based on morgue, hospital and police records indicate the daily number of civilian deaths is almost twice as high as last year.

This terrible death toll of the 2003 invasion and occupation is in addition to the more than 1 million Iraqis who died as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and the strict economic sanctions that continued for a decade and a half afterward.

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Nearly 5 million Iraqis are refugees.

According to the UN, Iraq is suffering the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Over 2 million people are internally displaced, an eightfold increase in a year and a half, according to the Red Crescent Society. Another 2.5 million have fled across Iraq's borders and are living in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and beyond.

More than half of these refugees are children under 12.

As of mid-summer, according to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, at least 50,000 people were fleeing the country each month. That number may be higher by now.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has allowed fewer than 750 Iraqi refugees to come here--and only 133 for 2007, as of mid-August.

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The death toll for U.S. soldiers is rising.

As of the start of September, the Pentagon had confirmed more than 3,700 deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The death toll increased during 2007 as Bush's surge was implemented, with total fatalities nearly as high after the first eight months of the year as during all of 2006. The May death count of 126 U.S. troops was the highest in two-and-a-half years and the third-highest monthly total since the invasion began.

One hidden body count is the number of U.S. private contractors killed in Iraq. Though figures are hard to come by since private companies aren't required to announce casualties, at least 1,000 private contractors died in Iraq, according to the Department of Labor.

The number of U.S. soldiers who survive wounds and injuries is much higher than in previous wars because of improvements in body armor and medical technology, and the rapid evacuation of the wounded. If the death-to-injury rate among U.S. troops were the same for Iraq as during Vietnam, the number of U.S. war dead would be roughly 25,000.

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Attacks on U.S. forces are increasing.

Rather than quell violence, Bush's troop surge has coincided with an increase in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. In July, the Pentagon reported that attacks on U.S. and coalition troops, Iraqi security forces, civilians and infrastructure surged to an average of 178 a day--more than 5,000 per month.

"It is very clear that the number of attacks against U.S. forces is up," Major Gen. James Simmons told the Washington Post the month before. "The attacks are being directed at us and not against other people."

In particular, roadside bombs set by Iraqi fighters have become more sophisticated and deadly. Before the surge began, they accounted for a third of U.S. combat deaths--as it was reaching its height, they were causing more than two-thirds of deaths.

The administration is touting its supposed successes in Anbar province west of Baghdad, once the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency, as evidence of progress. U.S. casualty figures are down in Anbar, but the region is still the second-highest source of deaths for U.S. soldiers, after Baghdad itself. And overall, U.S. casualty rates are much higher--sometimes dramatically so in areas of the country once considered pacified.

It should also be noted that the U.S. is increasing its most ferocious military attacks--from the air.

The number of bombs dropped on Iraq in the first half of 2007 was five times greater than the same period a year earlier. According to Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, 100 U.S. planes are airborne above Iraq at any given moment of the day.

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Sectarian violence is worse.

One claim of the Bush administration is that the troop "surge" has at least clamped down on violent sectarian attacks in Iraq. But the Pentagon's books are carefully cooked to come up with this claim.

For one thing, the Pentagon doesn't count deaths from car bombs--like the horrific explosion in northern Iraq that killed 500 ethnic Yezidis--as a sectarian killing.

Also, as Paul Krugman pointed out last week, "[O]ne intelligence analyst told the Washington Post that 'if a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal.' So the number of dead is down, as long as you only count certain kinds of dead people."

What's more, Krugman points out, the Pentagon has been taking credit for pacifying formerly Sunni enclaves in Baghdad after the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis has been accomplished by Shiite militias, and "the death toll in that district falls because there's nobody left to kill."

According to figures taken from morgue counts, the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets of Baghdad--and presumably murdered by sectarian death squads--had grown by 41 percent since the surge was announced.

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Iraq is one of the poorest places on earth.

In stark contrast to the boasting of Bush administration hawks that it would become a model of democracy and free-market prosperity, Iraq today ranks among the poorest countries in the world.

More than half the population lives on less than $1 a day, according to the UN. Annual per capita income has been cut by 80 or 90 percent over the past 25 years--from $3,600 in 1980, when Iraq had one of the most advanced economies in the region, to perhaps as low as $400 today, according to Asia Times writer Pepe Escobar.

Malnutrition afflicts 28 percent of Iraqi children, up from 19 percent before the invasion--which itself came after more than a decade of a strict economic blockade that caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.

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Electricity and other essential services are still at pre-invasion levels.

The national electrical grid delivers just one to two hours of electricity per day to residents of Baghdad. For several more hours of power a day, Iraqis depend on small local generators, which daily use up to 20 gallons of gasoline--itself a prized commodity, even though Iraq floats on a sea of oil reserves coveted by the world's biggest oil companies.

Sanitation systems are also worse off than before the war. According to the World Health Organization, two out of three Iraqis don't have regular access to clean water, and four out of five "lack effective sanitation." Diseases resulting from a lack of sanitation are up by as much as 70 percent over the previous year in some areas.

"We no longer need television documentaries about the stone age," Hazim Obeid, a resident of Karbala, told Britain's Guardian newspaper. "We are actually living in it."

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Reconstruction hasn't taken place.

The amount of money the U.S. devoted to reconstructing Iraq was always a pittance compared to the money spent on trying to subdue Iraq militarily. But even so, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office reports that there has been "little detectable progress" to show for the Washington's $44.5 billion devoted to Iraq reconstruction.

According to Iraq's chief investigator, some $11 billion is missing due to Iraqi governmental corruption.

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The Iraq war has cost half a trillion dollars.

The U.S. has spent more than $450 billion on the war in Iraq as of mid-September, according to the National Priorities Project's Web site. Ongoing spending is at least $10 billion a month on the Iraq war alone--which works out to $228,938 for every minute of every day.

To add insult to injury, Bush has demanded another $50 billion to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, to go along with a pending request for $147 billion in supplemental funding.

According to an analysis by Robert Sunshine of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), one dollar in every 10 appropriated by the federal government has gone to Iraq. The total cost of the war is projected to be more than $1 trillion--and could reach $1.5 trillion or more, according to the CBO.

Such sums are so astronomical that they dwarf most conceivable measures. But to take one comparison, according to the UN Development Program, the cost of providing the most basic needs that go unmet everywhere around the world--for food, shelter, clean water, primary education, basic medical care--would be $80 billion a year. The U.S. is spending one-and-a-half times every year on turning Iraq into a living hell.

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