Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Iraq Update

I've been critical of inflated claims of the number of deaths caused by the Iraq invasion. The two Lancet studies are nonsense at best (fraud at worst), as is the WHO report, activist assertions and especially the ORB poll. Virtually all such counts were tallied by anti-war lefties, via questionable data, eliding causation -- even Iraq Body Count (IBC) argues that all violent civilian deaths there "have resulted from the 2003 military intervention in Iraq" even where the killers were terrorists. Terrorist Death Watch, which tracked solely deaths of terrorists, unfortunately went silent two years ago.

This leaves IBC as the least biased group remaining. So what does IRC's year-end 2009 analysis say? That terrorists are far more lethal than coalition soldiers or Iraqi police. Unfortunately, IBC cloaks this conclusion.

To its credit, IBC states some facts forthrightly. It admits to "significant improvements in levels of armed and non-state terrorist violence in Iraq," such that the "annual civilian death toll from violence in 2009 was the lowest since the 2003 invasion, at 4,644 by Dec 31." Even better, it now sets forth a separate count of coalition-caused civilian deaths:
Non-combatant Iraqi deaths resulting directly from actions involving US-led coalition forces were dramatically lower than in the preceding year, with a total of 64 reported by Dec 25 (2008: 594): deaths due to air attacks reduced from 365 in 2008 to 0 in 2009 (as of Dec 25). Deaths involving Iraqi forces were down from 519 in 2008 to 103 in 2009.

Of these deaths caused by US-coalition and Iraqi state forces, the number killed in joint actions fell from 114 in 2008 to 16 in 2009; the overall number of civilians killed by state forces (US-coalition, Iraqi, or both) was 999 in 2008 and 151 in 2009.
Conversely, the group concedes that "'anti-occupation' activity continues to play a central part in the deaths of Iraqi civilians."

Ok, but how central? IBC's summary 2009 report won't tell you. Indeed, I was struck by the absence of comparisons in that web page. IBC doesn't do the math -- one has to comb the underlying data. Fortunately, I have. (Subsequent comparison assume 151 coalition-caused civilian deaths (not 167), because that's the figure in IBC's database.)

Initially, the count of coalition-caused civilian deaths represents only 3 percent of all civilian deaths. Though I wish the number were smaller, that's not many. And the mere datapoint obscures the critical question of intent: the fact remains that terrorists deliberately target civilians while we seek to shield them. Civilians killed by the coalition or police are unintentional collateral damage -- mistakes, not murders.

How about the tally of civilians killed by what IBC calls "anti-occupation" forces? (The label is wrong -- they're terrorists or ex Baathists seeking to return to their former dictatorship) The IBC's summary page never says, though the underlying data lists 1041 deaths. The page does allow readers to create charts; this one shows terrorist killings (gray) far outpace those of the coalition forces and the Iraqi government (blue):

source: IBC

Unmentioned is the fact that attributed terrorism accounted for a minimum of almost 7 times more Iraqi civilian deaths than coalition and police forces.

And even that figure substantially underestimates the actual ratio. Obviously, 1041 plus 151 represents only about a quarter of the over 4600 total Iraqi civilian deaths last year. This is because IBC concludes that there were only a "minority of incidents where perpetrators could be positively identified." I don't doubt that a killer's identity sometimes may remain inconclusive. But, of the deaths ascribed to unknown agents, most probably were murdered by terrorists -- as even IBC admits, the difficulty establishing causation applies "with the exception of uniformed forces." As a reminder, most coalition soldiers and Iraqi police wear uniforms. So it's likely that terrorists were behind the vast majority of the deaths by "unknowns."

This is supported by other numbers reported by IBC itself. It classes each murder by one of three types of violence: explosive, gunfire and suicide bombs. First, obviously, neither the coalition nor Iraqi police use suicide bombs (the IBC database lists zero suicide bomb deaths caused by coalition or police forces). So all "unknown" suicide bomb killings last year -- the IBC reports 692 such murders without a proven responsible party -- were the work of terrorists.

Second, terrorists were behind most killings by explosives. Even IBC labels bomb murders -- "706 explosions causing 2,972 deaths" -- as victims of "everyday terrorism." This is 60 percent of total deaths last year. Yet, despite that admission, IBC's database doesn't acknowledge that terrorists use terrorism -- most who died by planted bombs were victims of terrorism (the database ascribes less than 1 percent of explosive deaths to coalition and police forces). Adding bombing deaths alone almost triples the number of civilians killed by terrorists, to nearly 20 times the count of civilians killed by identified coalition/police.

So it would be fair to presume virtually all "unknown" civilian deaths were caused by terrorists. Even assuming, generously, that coalition or police forces were responsible for 10 percent of the unattributable deaths, terrorists killed the overwhelming majority of Iraqi civilians:

source: NOfP chart from IBC data

Conclusion: Iraq is a credible representative democracy. Still besieged by terrorist attacks, it's safer than last year--and far better than under Saddam (literally). Put differently, we're winning.

I regret any civilians mistakenly killed by coalition soldiers or Iraqi police. But that represents a small fraction of the violence. In Iraq and elsewhere, terrorists are by far more lethal. The coalition and the Iraqi government are a force for good; terrorists remain the principal threat to civilians. Notwithstanding the protests of fact-challenged progressives.

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