Figures Don't Lie


As the Iraq war drags on, and Britain and Australia wait for more unconvincing talking points from the Bush Administration, one US general has no doubt who will solve the crisis.  

Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week defended the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. ‘He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for the country,’ Pace said.

Pace’s hyperbolic comments were exceeded by US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, recently made commander of the US Southern Command, which takes in South and Central America and the Carribean:

[Rumsfeld] comes to work everyday with a single-minded focus to make this country safe. We’re lucky as a nation that he continues to serve with such passion and such integrity and such determination and such brilliance.

This ‘brilliance’ of Rumsfeld and his fellow ideologues has unleashed an Iraqi civil war and an overwhelming civilian death toll. The handful of pro-war supporters left standing Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper, for example have been forced to adjust their own overly-optimistic posturing.

An editorial in last week’s The Australian claimed that the ‘original [invasion]objective was not an evil one’ and ‘tactical flexibility’ was required to solve the growing crisis. Little care was shown for the civilians murdered as a result of the occupation. Rather, the strategic conundrum being experienced by the US was the key concern. Murdoch’s little cheer-leaders clearly expected to be holidaying in Basra by now, but unfortunately the margaritas haven’t yet arrived.

When the world-renowned UK medical journal, The Lancet recently released a study   that claimed over 650,000 Iraqis had been killed since the 2003 invasion, George W Bush and John Howard immediately dismissed the figure. Pro-war boosters, such as Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt still quaintly claiming that the war was a welcome ‘liberation’ scoffed at the scientific survey though, of course, he was unable to provide accurate civilian casualties. (After all, when ‘journalists’ get their talking points from government sources, the truth can get lost in the feverish spinning.)

The US media generally dismissed The Lancet findings and smeared one of the co-authors of the report, Les Roberts. Then again, the scientific knowledge of journalists, Presidents and Prime Ministers is hardly worth celebrating. The scientists themselves were nearly in complete agreement. A number of Australian experts wrote to The Age newspaper to support The Lancet results:

Conducting such a rigorous study within the constraints of the security situation in Iraq is dangerous and difficult, and deserves commendation. We have not heard any legitimate reason to dismiss its findings. It is noteworthy that the same methodology has been used in recent mortality surveys in Darfur and Democratic Republic of Congo, but there has been no criticism of these surveys.

Thanks to Sean Leahy

Of course, arguing over the civilian death toll in Iraq is a major distraction from the humanitarian catastrophe in the country. Western commentators can debate the merits of this scientific study or another, but the Iraqis themselves are suffering on a daily basis thanks to our ‘liberation.’ One of Iraq’s best known bloggers, Riverbend, offered her comments on The Lancet study last week;

The latest horror is the study published in The Lancet concluding that over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the war. Reading about it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it sounded like a reasonable figure. It wasn’t at all surprising. On the other hand, I so wanted it to be wrong. But … who to believe? Who to believe …? American politicians … or highly reputable scientists using a reliable scientific survey technique?

The responses were typical war supporters said the number was nonsense because, of course, who would want to admit that an action they so heartily supported led to the deaths of 600,000 people (even if they were just crazy Iraqis )? Admitting a number like that would be the equivalent of admitting they had endorsed, say, a tsunami, or an earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale, or the occupation of a developing country by a ruthless superpower oh wait that one actually happened. Is the number really that preposterous? Thousands of Iraqis are dying every month that is undeniable. And yes, they are dying as a direct result of the war and occupation (very few of them are actually dying of bliss, as war-supporters and Puppets would have you believe).

For American politicians and military personnel, playing dumb and talking about numbers of bodies in morgues and official statistics, etc, seems to be the latest tactic. But as any Iraqi knows, not every death is being reported. As for getting reliable numbers from the Ministry of Health or any other official Iraqi institution, that’s about as probable as getting a coherent, grammatically correct sentence from George Bush especially after the Ministry was banned from giving out correct mortality numbers. So far, the only Iraqis I know pretending this number is outrageous are either out-of-touch Iraqis abroad who supported the war, or Iraqis inside of the country who are directly benefiting from the occupation ($) and likely living in the Green Zone.

The Western media is currently filled with articles describing the Bush Administration in turmoil because of the bloodbath in Iraq, but there is little about life in Iraq itself. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail   is providing one of the finest sources of eyewitness accounts. Take his report of October 9 for the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS):

The little known city of Baquba is emerging as one of the hotbeds of resistance in Iraq, with clashes breaking out every day. The violence in this city 50km northeast of Baghdad is also now spreading elsewhere around Diyala province.

‘The new waves of terror are now forming a variety that we predicted long ago,’ a political leader in the city told IPS. ‘The Iraqi people have complained to everyone, but naturall
y no one will do anything about it. We know who is in charge and who is responsible and eventually who is to be damned. It is the government of the United States of America.’

Why do the media elite expect to receive accurate assessments when listening to Howard, Bush or Blair? If the last three years has taught us anything, it is that our leaders and officials cannot be trusted to report truthfully on Iraq.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.