The UN/World Health Organization and Iraq have released the results of a new study estimating the number of excess (by violence) deaths in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006. Folks who oppose the Iraq war, despise Bush/Cheney, and generally look for anything through which they can feel morally superior to people who supports the US mission in Iraq often bandy about the number one million Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion. That number is erroneous and vastly inflated:
Limiting the study to the time since the invasion in March 2003, and extrapolating results to the whole country, researchers arrived at the 151,000 estimate. The study authors say they are 95 percent certain that the true number is between 104,000 and 223,000. Iraq’s population is roughly 26 million.
Included in that figure are the insurgents/terrorists who have been killed in battle. One thing the survey cannot tell us is the the number of deaths directly caused by US military action versus the number of deaths caused by terrorism.
There is no dispute that the majority of the civilian deaths were caused by terrorism. We have been told that al Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq before the US-led invasion, if that was true they didn’t waste much time developing the leadership, infrastructure, and means to begin slaughtering Iraqis wholesale. Saddam loyalists ensured his legacy of murder lived on after he was captured as well. They almost succeeded in destabilizing Iraq and forcing the US to withdraw. But the Bush administration doubled down and crushed the insurgents. The Iraqi people are safer now as a result of Bush’s stubbornness.
How would Iraqi mortality have differed if there had been no invasion? It is impossible to predict what Saddam may or may not have done, but it was widely reported that sanctions imposed in 1990 were killing thousands of Iraqis a month:
“The sanctions, the toughest in history, are killing up to 6,000 Iraqis a month”, according to Denis Halliday, a former UN coordinator of humanitarian aid to Iraq.
Six-thousand deaths a month over thirty-six months equals 216,000 dead Iraqis – a number that would place any three years between 1990 and 1999 at the high end of the 2003-2006 study results. Needless to say, there was significant momentum toward ending the sanctions. The Oil for Food program proved to be a giant slush fund through which Saddam plundered billions and bribed sympathetic voices in the UN.
Those sanctions were in place because Saddam chose to send his army to rape and pillage Kuwait. Beyond the impact of sanctions, actions by Saddam against the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in southern Iraq killed between 250 and 500 thousand people.
The invasion of Iraq has saved tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.
It has also given the Iraqi people something ten years of sanctions and no-fly zones could not – an end to Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror and opportunity for self-determination. The struggle has been costly, but the potential rewards are incalculable.