Study: Between 11,000 and 15,000 killed in Iraq

Between 11,000 and 15,000 Iraqis died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Noncombatants made up about 30 percent of that, despite technological advances and fewer bombs dropped by the Coalition.

Between 11,000 and 15,000 Iraqis died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with 30 percent, or between 3,200 and 4,300 people, being civilian noncombatants, according to a new study from the “Project on Defense Alternatives”:, a Boston-based think tank. The percentage of noncombatant deaths is almost twice that of the 1991 Gulf War.
The study looks at the period from March 19 to May 1, when “President George W. Bush”: declared “major combat operations” to be over, and finds that:

  • Approximately 201 coalition troops, of which 148 were American, died in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and
  • between 11,000 and 15,000 Iraqis died, with about 30 percent (3,200 to 4,300) being noncombatant civilians who did not take up arms against Coalition troops.

The study used “operational data, demographic data, several hospital and burial society surveys, media interviews with Iraqi military personnel, battlefield fatality estimates made by US field commanders and embedded reporters, and media and non-governmental accounts of hundreds of civilian casualty incidents” to come to its conclusions.
(The study uses the terms “combatants” and “noncombatants” instead of “military” and “civilians,” because it appears a significant number of civilians took up arms and a number of Iraqi soldiers fought out of uniform and may have been mistaken for civilians.)
How did the 2003 war in Iraq compare to the 1991 Gulf War? Although there is uncertainty as to the number killed in 1991, the Project believes that more than 3,500 civilians and between 20,000 and 26,000 Iraqi troops died in that conflict. The executive summary says:

  • Both the absolute number and the proportion of noncombatants among the Iraqi war dead was higher in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) than in Operation Desert Storm (ODS), twelve years earlier. This, despite the intervening years of technological development and enhancements to US warfighting capabilities (which cost US taxpayers ~ $1 trillion) and despite the fact that far fewer aerial munitions were used in OIF than in ODS and a much higher proportion of these were guided.
  • In absolute terms, US, British, and Iraqi combatant fatalities were substantially fewer in the 2003 war than in the first Gulf War. Iraqi fatalities in 2003 were perhaps only 37 percent as numerous; US and British fatalities, 48 percent as numerous. Yet, measured against the numbers of troops engaged on both sides during the two wars, casualty rates were actually higher in 2003 for all concerned.
  • Looking at both the 1991 and 2003 wars, the only feature that marks the two wars as ostensibly “revolutionary” is the low ratio of US and British fatalities to Iraqi ones. These ratios are in the range of 70-90 to one. (By comparison, Israel was able to achieve exchange rates of no better than 4-to-1 in its wars with Arab states.) Apart from the relatively low number of Anglo-American fatalities, both of the wars had death tolls that registered within range of many strategically significant wars of the past 40 years. They do not stand out unambiguously as “low casualty” wars.

Why were there more noncombatants deaths and no significant decline in the number of combatant deaths this time around? The goal of Operation Iraqi Freedom was fundamentally different from the 1991 Gulf War: Regime Change. The United States needed to operate more deeply into Iraqi territory than before and there was more fighting in and around cities. Not only were more civilians placed in harm’s way, but more civilians decided to pick up arms and fight the invaders. Most of the fighting in the 1991 war, however, took place in the mostly empty southern and western desert of Iraq around Kuwait.

It’s not pretty. It’s not surgical. You want surgical, you should have left the place alone. You try to limit collateral damage, but they want to fight. Now it’s just smash-mouth football.
–Chief Warrant Officer Pat Woellhof with USMC units in Nasiriyah, April 2003

Many of the Iraqi war dead were concentrated in or around Baghdad, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. Between 4,376 and 5,526 people — combatant and noncombatant — appeared to have died in fighting for the Iraqi capital. The study estimates that _at least_ 2,876 of those killed were noncombatant civilians. Much of the carnage can be attributed to attempts by Baghdad residents to flee as the Americans advanced. The day before the first American thrust into the city, the International Red Cross described a scene of chaos as thousands of residents jammed the streets in cars, taxis and even horse-drawn carts in attempt to flee the city. The next day saw heavy fighting, with civilians caught in the crossfire. “In one incident,” the report states, “at a south Baghdad interchange, two dozen civilian vehicles were inadvertently destroyed — their occupants torn apart or incinerated — by a US mechanized task force that was responding to an attack from nearby Fedayeen. Women and children were among the recognizable dead remaining in the wreckage days later.” (Irish Times) At the time, _The Guardian_ reported that the streets of Baghdad were strewn with bodies.
In the air campaign, one third as many fighter and bomber sorties were flown in 2003 as in 1991, and Operation Iraqi Freedom saw only 13 percent of the total number of bombs dropped in Operation Desert Storm. But 19,948 of the 29,900 bombs used in 2003 were guided (66.7 percent) compared to 6.5 percent in 1991. This increasing reliance on guided munitions gives the impression — in the public’s mind at least — that there will be fewer casualties. But the report makes the point that being more accurate doesn’t fewer people die. _It means hitting the target and achieving the aim with fewer bombs._ “Whether this produces fewer casualties depends on one’s target and intent,” the report says.
In all, comparing the two conflicts leads to this:

  Operation Desert Storm (1991) Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003)
Noncombatant deaths (approx.) Approximately 3,500 between 3,200 and 4,300
Combatant deaths (approx.) Between 20,000 and 26,000 between 7,600 and 9,400
Percentage of noncombatant deaths between 13.5 and 17.5 Approximately 30 percent

Note the similarities in noncombatant deaths between the two wars, despite 12 years of technological advances, the dropping of fewer bombs and more precision-guided ones. None of these factors guaranteed a reduction in noncombatant deaths, which should surprise people who think America’s ability to wage war is somehow “cleaner” or less harmful to the innocents.
But these were two different wars, right? Yes. And that reflects a strategic change more than a technological one. The goal of regime change fundamentally changed how this war was fought, with more fighting in urban areas, closer to civilians and against Iraqi civilians defending their country. So we shouldn’t make a big deal out of the similar figures for noncombatant deaths, right? Two different wars, apples and oranges, etc.
But the 1991 war was a war gamer’s dream scenario. Two large armies, in the middle of a featureless desert, in a mostly unpopulated area going at one another. That kind of war _won’t happen again._ Wars like Operation Iraqi Freedom will likely be more common, with heavy urban fighting and a confusion as to who is a combatant and who is not. While 3,500 people killed and a total casualty count of 11,000 to 15,000 might not sound like many — considering it was a major invasion — a 30 percent noncombatant casualty rate is horrible and dangerous. The (relatively) low numbers of Iraqi war dead was because “major combat” ceased after the Iraqi Army disintegrated. Can the United States count on that to happen every time? What happens if America gets into another war like this and the enemy _doesn’t_ roll over? What happens if you have 100,000 war dead and 30 percent of that is noncombatant? Will the United States be able to tolerate 30,000 noncombatant deaths? Will the world be able to tolerate the United States?
My point is that war is dangerous, deadly and highly imprecise. Lots of people who don’t have any dog in the fight are going to pay the ultimate price. And this will lead to vengeance and hatred on the part of those left behind. As the father of a girl killed by a cluster bomblet said, “I am going to kill America — not today, after 10 years.”
If that’s the legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the America’s leaders — and its people — should be very careful about future wars. Winning ugly may be winning, but the ultimate cost can be higher than the victory.

Hm, that’s a good idea…

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is asking for donations to go cover the New Hampshire primary. Why didn’t I think of that?

Josh over at Talking Points Memo is proposing to cover the New Hampshire primary for his blog by asking his readers to fund him to go on the trip.
Hm. Where have I heard that idea before?
OK. I’m not really miffed that he’s using B2I’s revenue model. I hope he pulls it off, as I think (for obvious reasons) that this kind of “epic event coverage” by professional bloggers can really advance the medium and drive the revenue model forward. I urge people to donate once he gets his plan more in place. I plan to.
But, Josh: Would it _kill_ you to mention B2I?
*UPDATE* To Aaron et al. I was _joking_ in my pique. I wasn’t really miffed, as I pointed out and I really would like to see more of this kind of journalism-blogging. As I’ve pointed out in the past, while I may have been the first, I certainly hope I’m not the last to do this kind of reader-funded reporting.


Spammers have forced my hand!

Lately, the comments boards have become a haven for spammers, hawking porn, Viagra, whatever. I’ve tried to delete them as quickly as I can catch them, but sometimes I miss them. My apologies.
Anyway, this infuriating development has led me to consider some form of registration to leave comments. I don’t like the idea of it, and I know you don’t, but I feel I’ve been pushed to at least consider this by the jerks online. I’m not sure how I would do it, possibly moving to Scoop or something like “”: has done, but I think it has come to that. I’ll keep you all in informed.
Again, my apologies for moving in this direction, but the spammers have forced my hand, and — again — made something cool and convenient less so.
I thank you for your understanding and patience.
*UPDATE* Apparently, “I’m not the only one”:,1282,60912,00.html pissed off by this. (By the way, “Wil Wheaton’s blog”: is considered popular and influential?)
*UPDATE 2* Thank to “James”: for pointing me to MT-Blacklist, a plug-in from the he-who-should-be-sainted “Jay Allen”: Now, if I can just get it to work. At the moment, I keep getting 500 Internal Server Errors.
UPDATE 3 Yay! MT-Blacklist now works and it’s lovely. Thanks, Jay, for all your help. Spammers: To hell with you.

Is Syria Next?

There’s been a lot of speculation that Iraq was just the first in a line of nettlesome problems in the Middle East that neo-cons wanted to “solve.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview almost a year ago that Iran should be the next target. However, it seems Washington has decided to step up its campaign against Syria.

There’s been a lot of speculation that Iraq was just the first in a line of nettlesome problems in the Middle East that neo-cons wanted to “solve.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview almost a year ago that Iran should be the next target. However, it seems Washington has decided to step up its campaign against Syria.
U.S.-led coalition troops treat wounded soldiers after an attack on a Humvee on the main road about 50 miles south of Baghdad. The extent of the soldiers’ wounds was unclear. (Greg Baker — AP) Click to enlarge
Last weekend, “to caution Israel’s enemies at a time of heightened tensions in the region and concern over Iran’s alleged ambitions,” Washington revealed that Israel now has land-, air- and submarine-based nuclear launch capability. This came just days after Turkish lawmakers voted to send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq. With the Turks now a dues-paying member of the “Coalition of Willing,” this means Syria is effectively surrounded. Remember that the major fighting in Iraq ended with Syrian and American forces skirmishing on the border, and now Damascus is pressed on the north and south by the formerly neutral Turkey and its old enemy Israel. The pressure is on Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to cease support for groups such as Hizballah and other groups operating out of Damascus. Asad is facing a dangerous gamble: Is the United States bluffing in its deployment of its and its allies’ forces around Syria in an attempt to force behavior change? Will a regime change follow if Syria’s behavior doesn’t alter?
Adding further to pressure is the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1828). It passed the House this week, and particular note should be paid to Section 4 — Statement of Principles:

  1. Syria will be held responsible for attacks committed by Hizballah and other terrorist groups with offices, training camps, or other facilities in Syria, or bases in areas of Lebanon occupied by Syria;
  2. the United States shall impede Syria’s ability to support acts of international terrorism and efforts to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction;
  3. the Secretary of State will continue to list Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism until Syria ends its support for terrorism, including its support of Hizballah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon and its hosting of terrorist groups in Damascus, and comes into full compliance with United States law relating to terrorism and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 (September 28, 2001);
  4. efforts against Hizballah will be expanded given the recognition that Hizballah is equally or more capable than al Qa’ida;
  5. the full restoration of Lebanon’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity is in the national security interest of the United States;
  6. Syria is in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 520 (September 17, 1982) through its continued occupation of Lebanese territory and its encroachment upon Lebanon’s political independence;
  7. Syria’s obligation to withdraw from Lebanon is not conditioned upon progress in the Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Lebanese peace process but derives from Syria’s obligation under Security Council Resolution 520;
  8. Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;
  9. Syria will be held accountable for any harm to Coalition armed forces or to any United States citizen in Iraq due to its facilitation of terrorist activities and its shipments of military supplies to Iraq; and
  10. the United States will not provide any assistance to Syria and will oppose multilateral assistance for Syria until Syria ends all support for terrorism, withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon, and halts the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction and medium- and long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

Note that many of these principles are almost identical to those expressed against Iraq, particularly the violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, the weapons of mass destruction and its ties to terrorism — in this case Hizballah, which has been promoted to Al Qa’ida rank in evil. Even the “axis of evil” rhetoric has been heated up, as this statement from the office of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, illustrates:

Syria is a government at war with the values of the civilized world and a violent threat to free nations and free men everywhere. We’ll send a clear message to President Asad and his fellow travelers along the axis of evil: The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators, or its sponsors. And our warnings are not to be ignored. (Emphasis added — Ed.) notes that the capture of Baghdad shocked the Arab world, and the United States seized the psychological initiative with the city’s fall. The United States went from being perceived as a hated but impotent power to a hated but feared one. Since the fall of Baghdad, however, the perception that the United States is bogged down by guerillas has taken hold and much of the initiative has been lost. The passage of HR 1828 and the coalescing of a regional coalition against Syria is required if the United States’ is to regain its footing and momentum. If pressure by Washington works, then Syria will reduce support to terror groups targeting Israel and halt the flow of fighters into Iraq. If it doesn’t, the United States will need to deal with Syria by force.
Related link: Why Iraq?

Women’s rights in Iraq

Freelance journalist Thierry Robin is blogging from Baghdad about the plight of women in post-war Iraq.

Freelance journalist Thierry Robin has entered Iraq to cover the plight of women in post-war Iraqi society. She He wrote to me the following:

I’m a freelance reporter and a member of the ABIR (Association for the Benefit of the Iraqi Women and their Relatives) association. I will go on a trip to Iraq from 8th to 22nd of October and I will blog from Baghdad about women’s rights (in French and in English). I thought you could be interested in this initiative and that’s why I’m contacting you.
With other members of ABIR, we will bring material to a dispensary and an orphanage. We will also meet Hanaa Edward from the local NGO “Al Amal” and other persons involved in the promotion of women’s rights in Iraq. It will be an opportunity for me to make several reports with the aim of catching people’s attention about the appalling fate of Iraqi women and girls: Sexual violences, abductions and murders are widespread, preventing the women from taking part in the postwar society.

Her His blog is up, and the English version is at the bottom of the postings. Her His reporting on the needs of the sick and the dying in the woefully under-equipped Baghdad hospitals are heartbreaking. And — big surprise — the violence that the Bush administration says is getting too much attention is omnipresent.
*UPDATE* Thank to my non-existent French skills, and the sharp eyes of two of my readers, David Frazer and Amy N., I found out that Thierry is a man, not a woman. My apologies for the screw-up. Thanks for the correction, guys!