Iraq’s Silent Dead

Evidence is mounting that America’s war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands of civilian Iraqis, and perhaps well over one hundred thousand. Yet this carnage is systematically ignored in the United States, where the media and government portray a war in which there are no civilian deaths, because there are no Iraqi civilians, only insurgents.

American behavior and self-perceptions reveal the ease with which a civilized country can engage in large-scale killing of civilians without public discussion. In late October, the British medical journal Lancet published a study of civilian deaths in Iraq since the US-led invasion began. The sample survey documented an extra 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths compared to the death rate in the preceding year, when Saddam Hussein was still in power – and this estimate did not even count excess deaths in Falluja, which was deemed too dangerous to include.

The study also noted that the majority of deaths resulted from violence, and that a high proportion of the violent deaths were due to US aerial bombing. The epidemiologists acknowledged the uncertainties of these estimates, but presented enough data to warrant an urgent follow-up investigation and reconsideration by the Bush administration and the US military of aerial bombing of Iraq’s urban areas.

America’s public reaction has been as remarkable as the Lancet study, for the reaction has been no reaction. The vaunted New York Times ran a single story of 770 words on page 8 of the paper (October 29). The Times reporter apparently did not interview a single Bush administration or US military official. No follow-up stories or editorials appeared, and no New York Times reporters assessed the story on the ground. Coverage in other US papers was similarly frivolous. The Washington Post (October 29) carried a single 758-word story on page 16.