For Omar

Jude Wanniski reports the number of Iraqi civilians dead, long past rigor mortis and rotting, as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in mid-March 2003. The body count, conducted by the Iraqi Freedom Party, covers 14 governorates in Iraq and provides data up to mid-June 2003. The number is around 37,000. 37,000 dead civilians, that is.

It’s about .15% of the whole Iraqi population (24 million souls) and you need to know what it doesn’t count. It doesn’t count soldiers, Fedayeen, militia or para-military — just the dead civilians. It doesn’t count those civilians injured, maimed or psychologically damaged. It doesn’t count the governorates in Iraqi Kurdistan. It just counts the dead among people like you and me, our kids, our neighbors and their kids, and the people we see down at the Wal-mart and the local bank.

In Vietnam, most of the civilians we killed were country peasants with little or no education, farmers really. Iraq, like a lot of places in the world today, is both urban and literate. Less than 10% of the economy is agricultural. If you believe the CIA’s 2003 Factbook, slightly more than 40% of the population can read and write, or you can choose UNICEF’s 2000 literacy rate of 58%. Given the stellar performance of the CIA to date on Iraq, call me crazy but I’m going with the UNICEF numbers.

In fact — if you want to see who we are killing, PBS put together a useful statistical overview of the Iraq that was, as of November 2002.

.15% of a national population is just a small number, a tiny token really, just one civilian dead for every 666 Iraqis. Certainly in any invasion aimed at "liberating," heads will roll. Neocons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz understand this well, having learned all about it in their shared avocation of Soviet studies during the Late Cold War. The USSR conducted several model uninvited liberations of sovereign nations, countries that had stood for something they wanted, and wanted to prove. Richard and Paul, Jerry Bremer too, seem to have learned well the Soviet technique, right down to post-haste increases of prison capacity and emplacement of hand-picked collaborators in the new government while retaining veto power on all decisions. Brezhnev must be so proud!

The .15% doesn’t include the numbers from the Kurdish region, a population comprising almost 20% of the total. So if we consider known civilian deaths in proportion to the population of interest (God forbid the U.S. government gets interested in you!) we get a slightly different percentage, a nice little .2% of the population. I know you all get this perfectly, but for the Dubyas in the crowd, this means that U.S. forces and U.S. military actions have already unintentionally killed one in every 500 civilians in Iraq between mid-March and mid-June 2003.

Just to put it in perspective, if the .2% were applied in this country of 290 million, it would equate to 580,000 deaths in three months, for a projected rate of 2.3 million annually. This "annual" rate, for comparison, exceeds our American annual losses of citizens to tobacco, alcohol, assorted drugs, suicide, murder, as well all deaths in this country each year due to traffic accidents. Now, when people drink, smoke, take dangerous drugs, don’t follow their doctor’s advice, live and drive recklessly, the rest of us accept and understand that we are human, and people die for different reasons. If this destruction of innocent life were, however, the direct result of a single cause, a single invading and occupying army, a single government — and if the invasion were the result of a single decision visited as it were unilaterally — well, it would tend to be seen as a something of a problem by the surviving friends and neighbors. Heck — in this country, it would be seen as a major overwhelming national crisis. Polls and politicians and mothers and fathers would scream "Somebody needs to do something!"

For Iraq, 37,000 civilian deaths in three months is simply amazing, given that we consciously try to avoid civilian deaths!! Now I understand why Rummy was so adamant that U.S. Army General Shinseki was wrong and we didn’t need "several hundred thousand troops." Even though an illuminating and logical explanation of the real troop requirements for various types of stability operations was published in the U.S. Army’s Parameters in 1995, I have to believe old Rummy knew what he was doing in keeping the troop numbers low. For Pete’s sake, with the 150,000 or so troops we have deployed, we have made 1 in 500 civilians go away in only three months time without even trying! On an annual basis, if this bonus kill-rate were to be sustained, we could make 4 in 500 go away every year! In other words, we currently have the military ability to eliminate one of every 125 civilians who once lived in a country called Iraq by March 2004. All by accident, just collateral damage! Unless we are planning on decimating the place, who needs more troops?

And while the neoconservative visionaries may want all the oil, all sold in dollars, all of the major contracts for the "rebuilding" project to replace Ba-ath socialism with Bush-crony socialism, and several long-term military bases so we can do the will of Sharon without having to kiss up to the Saudis anymore, we are indeed nothing if not benevolent occupiers. We have recently reduced civilian casualties, unclutched the iron fist, and all that. Why this past week, the only cause for complaint might have been the death of young 11-year-old Omar Jassim killed Tuesday in Anbar, northwest of Baghdad. According to an Iraqi blogger in Baghdad, "He was killed during an American raid — no one knows why."

George W. Bush recently out on a long stump (or was it a short plank?) said to anyone still listening that "This progress [he is referring to the grand and glorious liberation of Iraq now in its fifth grand and glorious month] makes the remaining terrorists even more desperate and willing to lash out against symbols of order and hope, like coalition forces and U.N. personnel [thanks for clarifying exactly what those symbols of order and hope were, sir! Very helpful!]. The world will not be intimidated. A violent few will not determine the future of Iraq.”

The violent few, in this case, terrorists because we and the international community are on the receiving end, should not be allowed to determine the future of Iraq. Just as we should not have concocted an "imminent threat" scenario in order to pursue a narrow Washington agenda to put our own man in Baghdad. Things that happen when they shouldn’t cause angst. Like the angst a former Navy officer, who served in Vietnam, describes in a current Newsday article. James Larocca asks if we have forgotten "anger in the eyes" and how it is created, this "white-hot hatred that will take a thousand years to extinguish." Fighters and resisters and saboteurs are not only created, but energized by a faded torn photograph of a dead parent or child, or a single piece of jewelry once worn by a loved one, or a burning memory of powerlessness scarred into their hearts.

The violent few will not determine the future of Iraq. But the dead few — the close relatives and friends of every Iraqi, one degree separated now from the living, sleeping the long sleep prematurely and unjustly, due to accident, carelessness, confusion, fear, panic, poor judgment, and the extremely deadly weaponry of the U.S. servicemen who thought they were just going to help liberate a country and then go home — the dead few might indeed determine the future of Iraq.