The Effects of the US Occupation

A primary stated justification for continuing the US-led military occupation of Iraq is that a withdrawal of Western forces would result in a "bloodbath." Without the responsible, benevolent oversight of the US-led forces, the rhetoric goes, Islamo-fascists in Iraq would simply slaughter each other. Iraqis’ propensity for violence, hatred, and irrationality necessitates, in Hillary Clinton’s words, that we "baby-sit" them until they are mature and responsible enough to govern themselves (although Clinton laments that we need to do so) (1). The bipartisan Congress and corporate media have frequently conjured such images (2). Apart from their blatant racism and paternalism, these images make two basic assumptions: that the US presence in Iraq is reducing violence, and that a US withdrawal would bring a dramatic increase in violence levels.

Almost never are these two claims scrutinized in much detail, however. In fact, politicians and mainstream media have gone to great lengths to ignore or trivialize the few serious studies that have attempted to trace mortality and violence levels in Iraq. The October 2006 Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet medical journal is the most systematic attempt thus far to measure the Iraqi death toll, concluding that the US-led invasion had resulted in 655,000 "excess deaths" as of late Summer 2006. Although most informed scholars of the Middle East—and most Western researchers with experience measuring death rates during war—accepted the study’s methodology and results, President Bush dismissed the study immediately, saying that "600,000, or whatever they guessed at, is just—it’s not credible" (3). Following suit, most journalists, editors, and pundits dismissed the figure as outlandish and asked no further questions. The 300+ Iraqis estimated to have been killed by US forces each day during 2006 remain virtually absent from news coverage in this country (4).

For anyone with the slightest moral concern for the Iraqi people, the only acceptable justifications for the continued military occupation of Iraq are that the US presence is reducing the violence and that Iraqis themselves want the occupation to continue (5). But unfortunately the primary studies tracking violence levels and Iraqi public opinion reveal a very different picture on both counts. Upon a review of these studies, it becomes quite clear why they have generally been ignored or dismissed by politicians and corporate media outlets in this country: they link the US presence to increased violence levels and mortality rates while revealing humanitarian crises of staggering proportions and consistent hostility toward the occupation among the Iraqi people. This essay addresses trends in violence and insecurity under the occupation, while a follow-up one will assess Iraqi public opinion.

US politicians are currently boasting that the "surge" which sent 30,000 extra US soldiers to Iraq starting in January 2007 has been responsible for reducing the violence in Iraq; major newspapers and TV stations have compliantly repeated this argument many times in recent months (6). But while most knowledgeable observers agree that since Summer 2007 there has been a small but significant decline in violence levels, the additional US troops have not been the cause for that decline. A majority of the Iraqi population remains staunchly opposed to the US presence and continues to say that the US incites more violence than it prevents. The following analysis thus takes into account recent government claims that the US escalation has reduced violence, though unfortunately there is little reason to accept that causation.

Violence and Mortality Levels

The Johns Hopkins Studies

The only two systematic studies of trends in Iraqi mortality rates over time were conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, and were published in October 2004 and October 2006 in the medical journal The Lancet. The first study estimated "about 100,000 excess [Iraqi] deaths"—meaning 98,000 more Iraqis died than would have had the invasion/occupation not occurred; the October 2006 estimated 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths.

Just as significant as the numbers, the studies concluded that the US-led forces were largely responsible for those deaths: the first study found that "[v]iolence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths." In other words, the 100,000 excess deaths could be "mainly attributed to coalition forces" (7). The October 2006 follow-up found that "[t]he proportion of deaths ascribed to coalition forces" had diminished to 31 percent by 2006, "although the actual numbers ha[d] increased every year." And US-led forces were still found to be responsible for a higher percentage (31) of deaths than any other group or cause in Iraq (8).

These two studies aroused a variety of hostile reactions from the war’s proponents upon their release. As mentioned, the Bush administration immediately dismissed the second study’s mortality estimate as a "guess" with no basis in reality, instead suggesting a figure of 30,000 (9). A few more scrupulous observers also criticized the studies’ estimates, questioning the methodology employed and pointing out that all other mortality estimates had estimated far lower figures for Iraqi deaths (10).

The latter point is true but misleading, because most other mortality estimates have based their findings only on deaths which have been officially registered in hospitals or morgues and/or reported in news media (11). The Johns Hopkins researchers note that in past conflicts in other countries, news reportage and official estimates have usually been drastically below estimates based on population surveys and interviews, sometimes recording as few as 5 percent of all deaths (12).

As for the studies’ methodology, researchers employed techniques which are typical for conflict mortality studies, and the US government in the past has accepted the validity of similar studies by the very same researchers. Even right-wing observers like The Financial Times have noted this fact, admitting that "[t]his survey technique has been criticised as flawed, but the sampling method has been used by the same team in Darfur in Sudan and in the eastern Congo and produced credible results" (13). The second study, the more controversial of the two because of its extraordinarily high estimate of 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths, involved a survey of 1,849 households in 47 random "clusters" all around the country (a relatively large sampling). Researchers collected data on familial deaths occurring since the invasion, verifying 92 percent of those fatalities with death certificates. Notwithstanding a few scattered scholarly critiques of the methodology and/or conclusions of the 2006 study, dozens of well-known and respected epidemiologists, statisticians, pollsters, and public-health officials from around the world applauded the researchers’ methodology and analysis. Most scholars who carefully analyzed the 2006 study—including some who had doubted the methodology of the 2004 study—agreed that the second’s results were "statistically reliable" and "extremely credible," and that "[t]he methodology is as good as it gets" (14). The Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Ministry of Defense likewise noted that the 2006 study’s methodology and design were "robust" and "close to best practice." Another British official admitted privately that the methodology used "is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones" (15).

 If the testimony of numerous scientists and experts is worth anything, the Johns Hopkins studies (especially the latter one) are credible ballpark estimates of Iraqi mortality levels up to September 2006. The studies were ignored or rejected by the US government not because of their methodology because of their high estimates and "because they identified Coalition violence as responsible for a large proportion of the deaths" (16). As scholars at the New York-based World Policy Forum argue,
Critics have used the divergent estimates to argue that the studies’ results are inconsistent. But all these estimates reflect high and rising mortality trends every year of the occupation. Whether the number for the 39 month period is 655,000 or 500,000, or even less, the overwhelming reality is that the occupying forces have failed to protect Iraqi civilians from violence under their Geneva Convention obligations. (17)
The World Policy Forum’s statement is in fact a very conservative one, which blames the US for "failing" to protect civilians when a more reasonable accusation might be deliberate disdain or even contempt for Iraqi civilians and their rights. In any case, we can accept as reasonable the WPF’s two central implications: that mortality rates accelerated in each successive year of the occupation from 2003-2006 and that the US military presence (at best) did nothing to quell that violence and (more likely) actually led to increased violence in Iraq during that period. 

Mortality and Other Indicators of Violence Since 2006

Following the period covered by the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, violence by all major indicators continued at high levels. Here I briefly consider the following such indicators: insurgent or "enemy-initiated" attacks; numbers and intensity of mortar and bomb attacks; numbers of active insurgents; US and coalition fatalities; Iraqi Security Force (ISF) fatalities; and Iraqi civilian casualties (to the limited extent that figures are available).

Within the period from 2006 to 2007, violence in Iraq seems to have increased throughout 2006 and the first half of 2007, peaking in the spring and summer of 2007 before declining in late summer. In the three and a half months from 20 May to 4 August 2006, there was an average of 113.4 insurgent attacks per day; from 12 August 2006 to 4 May 2007, there were between 148 and 160 daily attacks; from 5 May to 20 July 2007 there was a record 162 per day (18). Military sources also reported in June that insurgents were using "increasingly sophisticated and lethal means of attack" and were increasingly targeting US troops rather than Iraqi forces (19). Multiple-fatality bombings remained frequent during this time, totaling 43 in July despite having peaked at 69 in December (20). The increase in insurgent attacks contributed to a dramatic jump in US deaths: during the three-month stretch from April-June 2007 US deaths (331) were higher than in any other three-month period during the war. Total US deaths in Iraq were higher in 2007 than in any other single year of the war and occupation (21).

Iraqi deaths also reached astronomical levels in 2006 and the first half of 2007, even by partial estimates which include only registered or officially-reported civilian casualties. Various commentaries have documented and analyzed this trend. Conservative estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths for September and October 2006 are over 3,000 per month, while the UN estimates 6,376 civilians killed in November and December. In January 2007, the UN reported 34,452 civilian deaths during 2006 (not including unregistered deaths) (22). The level of violence accelerated upward through the spring of 2007, averaging 1,856 per month over the first eight months of the year by conservative estimates (23). As journalist Tom Clifford observed in April,
• almost half (44 per cent) of all violent civilian deaths after the initial invasion phase occurred in the just-ended fourth year of the conflict
•  mortar attacks that kill civilians have quadrupled in the last year (from 73 to 289)
• massive bomb blasts that kill more than 50 people have nearly doubled in the last year (from 9 to 17)
• fatal suicide bombs, car bombs, and roadside bombing attacks have doubled in the last year (from 712 to 1476) (24)
ISF fatalities also increased from their late-2006 levels, peaking in April at 300, the second-highest one-month total since the invasion, and averaging 209 per month from May through July.
The dramatic increase in fatalities had much to do with the explosion in sectarian violence following the February 2006 bombing of the Shia al-Askari mosque, an explosion to which the increase in US forces starting in January 2007 likely contributed. In addition to killing large number of Iraqi civilians, US forces and policies have intensified sectarian divisions in the country and have helped incite insurgent violence and terrorist attacks—points on which most knowledgeable observers and Iraqis have agreed for the last several years (25).

However, since September 2007 the common refrain among US government leaders, mainstream commentators, and everyday news articles on Iraq has been that violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically in recent months owing to the "surge" of 30,000 extra US soldiers introduced into Iraq starting in January 2007. Although US leaders started claiming that the surge had reduced violence while in fact violence levels were still at their all-time high (in mid-Summer 2007) (26), it is true that in Fall and early Winter 2007 there has been a relative decline in violence according to the indicators examined above. In mid-fall official sources reported a decline in monthly insurgent attacks from roughly 5,000 to 3,000 a month since June (27). Multiple-fatality insurgent and terrorist bombings decreased from 43 in July to 22 in November (28). US fatalities dropped from 84 in August to 65 in September, 38 in October, 37 in November, and 23 in December (29). Partial estimates of Iraqi civilian fatalities also show the civilian death rate declining from 1,598 in August to 752 in September, 565 in October, 471 in November, and 462 in December (these figures are low because they reflect only officially registered deaths, but they nonetheless reveal a downward trend) (30).

Effects of the "Surge"

Citing these figures for Fall 2007, the vast majority of news reportage in the US has accepted without questioning the notion that "the surge has worked" and that the increased US military presence has reduced the violence in Iraq. But while the figures do suggest a recent decline in violence, the massive publicity accompanying that decline is highly misleading on two fronts. First, it hides the fact that violence has only decreased relatively from its astronomical levels of 2006 and the first half of 2007; by most statistics, violence remains at levels similar to those observed in the first two years of the war. As noted, US fatalities in Iraq were higher in the year of the "surge" than in any other single year of the occupation, though they did decline significantly starting in September 2007. Yet the Fall 2007 figures are similar to US death rates in 2003 and early 2004. Iraqi civilian casualties have also declined recently, but Fall 2007 estimates suggest that the level of civilian deaths is similar to the levels recorded throughout 2005 (31). By most estimates the insurgency has not decreased in size but has probably increased since 2004 (although reliable estimates for Fall 2007 are not available) (32). The relative weakening of al Qaeda since Summer 2007 says little about the insurgency as a whole, since al Qaeda’s 1,000 or so members constitute only a small fraction of the insurgency.

Similarly, the number of "enemy-initiated attacks" has fallen, but only to pre-2006 levels. That is, while the swell in sectarian violence that started in early 2006 seems to have abated at least temporarily, the number of monthly insurgent attacks is still at or above the average for 2003 through 2005. While emphasizing the decline in "enemy-initiated attacks" since August, Fall 2007 reports from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) have continued to cite "persistent violence and sectarianism" as major problems, noting that "enemy-initiated attacks remain at high levels" (33). Likewise, the September 2007 Defense Department report to Congress boasted that the surge had "slowly eroded insurgents’ capacity to operate as freely as they did" previously, but then curiously noted that the increased US troop presence "ha[d] not degraded armed groups’ capabilities or motivations to conduct attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces, the [Iraqi government], or Baghdad residents" (34). The next DoD report in December noted that although insurgent and terrorist attacks had decreased, the level of attacks was still comparable to levels experienced in 2005 and January 2006 (35).

Likewise, the number of civilian deaths has decreased but remains at 2003 levels. The number of victims killed in multiple-fatality bombings declined considerably in the fall of 2007 but remains at a level comparable to that seen in 2003 and 2004 (36). Although the US government estimates upon which these trends are based drastically underestimate civilian casualties, I am assuming that government statistics give at least some rough idea of increases and decreases over time.

The publicity is misleading in a second way: in the causation it implies. There is little reason to believe that the US escalation begun in January 2007 has been responsible for reducing violence. Patrick Cockburn, a veteran journalist who has lived in Iraq throughout most of the war, noted in December that "[t]he shape of Iraqi politics have changed over the last year though for reasons that have little to do with ‘the Surge.’" Rather, he says, the changes have had "much to do with the battle for supremacy between the Sunni and Shia communities" (37). In particular, many Sunni militants—including a significant number of former al Qaeda members—have turned against al Qaeda as a temporary strategic alternative to fighting the US (who now pays them nicely for their cooperation despite their membership in al Qaeda until very recently). The decision of many Sunni fighters to align temporarily with the US does not signal any lessening of Sunni animosity toward the US: an astounding 93 percent of Sunni citizens still approve of attacks on US-led forces (Iraqi citizens as a whole tend to support attacks on occupying forces, yet they overwhelmingly condemn attacks on Iraqi government forces, with only about 7 percent approving) (38). Similarly, the weakening of al Qaeda during Fall 2007 for which US leaders have taken credit actually derives more from defections from within al Qaeda itself.

The changing political stances of Sunnis have been one of several major developments accounting for the recent decline in violence. Another has been the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s decision to deescalate his Mehdi Army’s military operations for the time being. Together, Sunni insurgents and the Mehdi Army constituted two of the biggest military actors and sources of violence in Iraq in 2006. The decisions of many Sunnis and al-Sadr to deescalate hostilities toward the US and the Iraqi government have led to reductions in overall violence, but those decisions had more to do with sectarian and intra-Iraqi developments than with the increased US presence. The decline in violence during the last half of 2007 has occurred quite irrespective of the US military surge (or more likely, in spite of it).

Furthermore, there is no substantial evidence that the surge has not had the opposite effect from what the Bush administration claims. Few Iraqi civilians (about 30 percent) believe that the surge has helped reduce violence and political tensions (39). The three-month period (April-June) with the highest number of US deaths since the war began came after the majority of extra US troops had been deployed to Iraq (by May 1st there were 13,200 and by June 18th 18,700 additional US soldiers in Iraq) (40). From May to July 2007 was one of the most violent, if not the most violent, period of the war. Insurgent attacks had nearly doubled since early 2006, peaking at 162 per day. This increase was especially apparent in Baghdad (the focus of the surge), with attacks more than doubling since early 2006 and increasing by 28 percent since the surge started, to 58 a day by Summer 2007 (41).

But also important in assessing the effects of the US presence is the percentage of insurgent attacks directed at US-led forces versus the percentages directed at Iraqi Security Forces and civilians. The US and other foreign occupiers comprise about 29 percent of the total military and security forces fighting the insurgency in Iraq, yet they currently attract about 60 percent of "enemy-initiated attacks" (42). From 2003 to 2005 the ratio was far more lopsided, with the US-led forces attracting an even higher proportion of attacks.

 The US government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) confirmed this pattern in September 2007, reporting that "[c]oalition forces are still the primary target of attacks," although "the number of attacks on Iraqi security forces and civilians also has increased since 2003" (43). Military officials have also admitted that US troops are disproportionately targeted by insurgents, saying in June 2007 that "the attacks are being directed at us and not against other people" (44). The fact that the US-led forces attract such a disproportionate share of attacks, coupled with ordinary Iraqis’ support for attacks on US forces, do much to discredit public US government statements expressing concern for democracy and the popular will. Contrary to the claims of presidential speeches and other official sources, the US military actually attracts much more violent hostility than do Iraqi military, police, and security forces. And more importantly, most Iraqis condone attacks on the US but oppose attacks on Iraqi forces. 

Though usually overlooked, these points are crucial to understanding the conflict in Iraq, and are particularly important when evaluating the recent claims of the Bush administration and mainstream media that the US surge has reduced violence in Iraq. Even if the modest decreases in violence observed in late 2007 continue in the coming months, we must bear in mind several points which follow from the US government’s own admission that US-led forces "are still the primary target of attacks":  1) Because they actually incite the majority of insurgent attacks, US-led forces cannot be credited with reducing the level of violence in Iraq; 2) Since most insurgent attacks are directed against the US and its allies, a US withdrawal will deprive the insurgency of its primary target and significantly undercut its popular support; 3) The decline in violence does not signal that Iraqis are any less opposed to the presence of the US military in their country, because insurgents’ animosities are still directed primarily against the US and because a majority of Iraqis continue to support insurgent attacks on US-led forces (45). The resentment of ordinary Iraqis toward the US goes a long way toward explaining how a small insurgency numbering fewer than 30,000 Iraqis and 800-2,000 foreigners has successfully prevented US-led and Iraqi government forces (which together total over 600,000) from establishing military dominance in Iraq for almost five years (46).

Refugees, Internal Displacement, and Public Services

In recent years several international agencies and organizations have been tracking the number of displaced Iraqis. The most prominent is the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). In April 2007 the UNHCR estimated around 4.1 million Iraqi refugees, 2.2 million outside Iraq and 1.9 million within the country (47). By late November 2007 the number of total refugees was 4.6 million, with 3.6 million people displaced as a direct result of the invasion and subsequent violence. Upon the release of the November report, UN spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis noted that despite widespread media reports of refugees returning en masse to their homes, "there is no sign of any large-scale return to Iraq as the security situation in many parts of the country remains volatile and unpredictable." Furthermore, a UNHCR survey at around the same time found that "there are many reasons for returns to Iraq other than considerations of improved security," such as lack "of money and/or resources," "difficult living conditions," and the expiration of refugees’ foreign visas. Thus, while "there have been some returns among displaced people," many of those who have returned have done so not because violence has declined but for other non-related reasons (48). As these recent reports make clear, small reductions in overall violence levels have not meant a greater sense of security for Iraqis.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has continually monitored displacement levels and living conditions in and around Iraq, draws similar conclusions. The IOM’s 2007 Mid-Year Review found that the drastic increase in sectarian violence over the course of 2006 (due in part to the February 2007 Sunni bombing of an important Shia mosque in Samarra) had caused a rapid rise in civilian displacement compared with the period 2003-2005. The report notes that "[i]n 2007 the largest displacements continue to originate from Baghdad," which has of course been the primary target of the US government’s troop build-up. The analysis concludes on a somber note:
The trends that were observed at the end of 2006—major displacement; increased strains on host communities and heightened competition for limited resources; deterioration in the sectors of health, education, water and sanitation; increased vulnerabilities; and augmented needs of basic items essential to human survival— are still evident and increasing six months later. (49)

There is still some uncertainty regarding the levels of displacement in the fall of 2007. Some figures suggest that displacements have ebbed since this past summer. If so, however, there is very little reason to believe that the US military bears any direct responsibility for such a change. And again, any apparent decline in violence must also be kept in perspective; as noted, even if violence has decreased like many analysts have suggested, it has only decreased in comparison with 2006 levels, which were far higher than during any previous year of the war. According to a December 2007 UNICEF report on the current situation of Iraqi children, "[a]n estimated 2 million children in Iraq continue to face threats including poor nutrition, disease and interrupted education" (50). The grim fact remains that millions of Iraqis both inside and outside the country still face starvation, disease, and violence—problems which will likely continue at least until the US withdraws and Iraq is given massive humanitarian and economic aid through programs like UNICEF to help re-stabilize the country.

 The UNICEF report is one window into the massive health and infrastructural crisis that continues to face Iraq. Key indicators of public health and well-being like water availability, electricity levels, access to medical care, employment, and quality and availability of education remain at very low levels. Despite all the self-righteous talk about "reconstruction" coming from the US and allies, all of these indicators (which at least in the cases of medical care and water are necessary simply to sustain life) have been at crisis levels since the invasion. In some cases, individual factors recovered slightly by the end of 2003 or 2004, but then have virtually stagnated since. For example, while hovering at around half the population throughout 2003, the unemployment rate recovered modestly but by conservative estimates stayed at between 25 and 40 percent from mid-2004 to mid-2007 (51). In other words, there has been virtually no improvement in employment levels since Summer 2004. Three of the indicators (water, electricity, and employment) have actually gotten worse since the US surge began in early 2007, according to an August 2007 poll of Iraqis (52). Two prerequisites for significant long-term recovery in these areas—economic development and political stability—have not only been absent but have been hampered by the surge. In the same poll, 67 percent of Iraqis stated that the pace of economic development had gotten worse since the surge began (only 6 percent said it had improved). Politically, 65 percent said that "the ability of the Iraq government to carry out its work" had decreased (12 percent said it had increased). And 90 percent of Iraqis responded that "conditions for political dialogue" had gotten "worse" (70 percent) or had had "no effect" (20 percent) (53).

 Overall, 72 percent of Iraqis stated that US-led reconstruction efforts had been "quite ineffective" or "very ineffective," and 80 percent said that the US had done "quite a bad job" or a "very bad job" with respect to its "responsibilities" since the invasion (54). To add further insult to the pathetic state of "reconstruction" in Iraq, the US Defense Department announced in December 2007 that "Iraq will now be required to fund most future reconstruction projects" (55).

Iraqis’ views toward the occupation—particularly regarding the effects of the US presence on the level of violence, and the expected consequences of a US withdrawal—are of utmost importance to anyone concerned about the well-being of the Iraqi people. Such views are accorded very little weight in the US press (if they’re even reported), and I will address them in a forthcoming piece.


(1) Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, "For Clinton and Obama, Different Tests on Iraq," New York Times, 12 Feb. 2007.

(2) For representative samples from Democratic presidential candidates, including John Edwards’s warning that a possible "genocide" necessitates a long-term US presence in Iraq, see Chris Floyd, "No Light, Just Tunnel: The Bipartisan Guarantee of More War in Iraq," Counterpunch (online), 13 August 2007. Available at http://www.counterpunch.org/floyd08132007.html; for an analysis of how pundits have manipulated the history of the Vietnam War to invoke images of a "bloodbath" after a US withdrawal, see William Blum, "First Pullout, Then Bloodbath: Rightwing Nuts Say it Happened in Vietnam," Counterpunch (online), 13 Aug. 2007. Available at http://www.counterpunch.org/blum08132007.html.

(3) Quoted in Tom Engelhardt, "Bush’s Cynical Numbers Game," online blog on The Nation website, posted 25 Oct 2006. Available at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion?bid=15&pid=132071.

(4) Michael Schwartz, "Killing 10,000 Iraqis Every Month: Media Silence About the Carnage in Iraq," Counterpunch, (online), 5 July 2007. Available at http://www.counterpunch.org/schwartz07052007.html. Schwartz notes that the figures during the "surge" in place since January 2007 are probably even higher.

(5) In addition to these considerations, there are a variety of other common arguments which
seek to justify the continued occupation, such as "Withdrawal wouldn’t honor the troops" or "Iraqi women will be defenseless if we leave." For succinct rebuttals to these various arguments, see the May 2007 pamphlet produced by Wesleyan University’s Students for Ending the War in Iraq (SEWI), No Reason to Stay: The Case for Immediate Withdrawal from Iraq, available at

(6) I use the term "surge" with great reluctance, since it was coined to convey the image of a macho, virtuous military power bravely taking on the forces of evil for the good of mankind, and to obscure the real-life consequences of the violence involved. Nonetheless, I use "surge" or occasionally "escalation" simply for clarity’s sake.

(7) Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham, "Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey," The Lancet (online) 364: 9448 (20 Nov. 2004), 1. Available from http://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/reports/lancet04.pdf.

(8) Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts, "Mortality After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey," The Lancet (online) 368: 9545 (21 Oct. 2006), 1, 6. Available from http://web.mit.edu/cis/lancet-study-101106.pdf.

(9) Peter Baker, "Bush Estimates Iraqi Death Toll in War at 30,000," Washington Post, 12 Dec. 2005.

(10) See, for example, Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks, "Mortality After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Were Valid and Ethical Field Methods Used in this Survey?" Households in Conflict Network, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, 1 Dec. 2006. Available at http://www.hicn.org/research_design/rdn3.pdf.

(11) For examples, see the periodic estimates of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), available at http://www.uniraq.org/aboutus/HR.asp; Iraq Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.net ); and Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (http://icasualties.org/oif/default.aspx). 

(12) Burnham, Lafta, Doocy, and Roberts, "Mortality After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey," 6.

(13) Stephen Fidler, "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: How War Casualty Estimates Stir Emotions," Financial Times, 19 Nov. 2004, quoted in Medialens, "Burying the Lancet—Part 2" (online), 6 Sept. 2005. Available at http://www.medialens.org/alerts/05/050906_burying_the_lancet_part2.php.  

(14) Quoted in Iraq Analysis Group, "Reactions to the Study: What Have Scientific Experts Said About the Study?" Available from http://www.iraqanalysis.org/mortality/441#faq1628.

(15) Both quoted in Owen Bennett-Jones, "Iraqi Deaths Survey ‘Was Robust,’" BBC News (online), 26 Mar. 2007. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6495753.stm.

(16) World Policy Forum and partners, "Chapter 8: Displacement and Mortality," War and Occupation in Iraq (June 2007). Available from http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/occupation/report/humanitarian.htm.

(17) Ibid. The authors refer to Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 Aug. 1949, Article 27: "Protected persons…shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof."

(18) Figures are from the DoD, quoted in Michael E. O’Hanlon and Jason H. Campbell, "Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq," 29 Nov. 2007, 26. Available from www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/indexarchive.htm.

(19) Ann Scott Tyson and John Ward Anderson, "Attacks on U.S. Troops in Iraq Grow in Lethality, Complexity," Washington Post, 3 June 2007.

(20) Figures quoted in O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 10-11.

(21) Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, "U.S. Deaths by Month/Year." Available at http://icasualties.org/oif/.

(22) Estimates taken from two sources: "Iraq Civilian Toll Continues to Rise," BBC News (online), 2 Jan. 2007. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6224047.stm; and Hannah Fischer, "Iraq Civilian Deaths Estimates," Congressional Research Service. Available from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22537.pdf. The estimates for September and October are from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). For the recent UN estimate, see UNAMI, "Human Rights Report: 1 November-31 December 2006," 2. Available from http://www.uniraq.org/FileLib/misc/HR%20Report%20Nov%20Dec%202006%20EN.pdf. And for Jon Weiner’s criticism of the UN figure for 2006, see "Iraqi Death Toll: Why the U.N. Can’t Count," Alternet (online), 17 Jan. 2007. Available from http://www.alternet.org/story/46872/.

(23) According to ICCC estimates.

(24) Quoted from "A Surge in Iraqi Civilian Deaths: The Bloodiest 12 Months of the War," Counterpunch (online), 20 Apr. 2007. Available from http:// www.counterpunch.org/clifford04202007.html. Also quoted in SEWI, No Reason to Stay, 2-3. The two preceding paragraphs also draw upon analysis included in the SEWI pamphlet.

(25) On Iraqis’ views of the effects of the US presence, see the various polls cited below, particularly those from March 2007. For one outside scholar’s argument about how the US-promoted Iraqi Constitution has helped deepen sectarian divisions, see Phyllis Bennis, "The Iraqi Constitution: A Referendum for Disaster," United For Peace and Justice Talking Points, no. 33 (13 Oct. 2005). Available at http://www.ipsdc.org/comment/Bennis/tp34constitution.htm (quoted in Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal [New York: The New Press, 2006], 74). Bennis says that "[i]n historically secular Iraq, the shift in primary identity from ‘Iraqi’ to ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’ (although Iraqi Kurdish identity was always stronger) happened largely in response to the US invasion and occupation; it does not reflect historical cultural realities." 

(26) In a December 2007 report to Congress, the Defense Department claimed there had been "an overall downward trend from February through November 2007"—a clear attempt to link the decline in violence with the US escalation. As the statistics presented above show, however, the "downward trend" did not start until at least six months after the surge began. For this disingenuous claim see US DoD, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," Dec. 2007 (Report to Congress), 19. Available at http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/FINAL-SecDef%20Signed-20071214.pdf.

(27) Government Accounting Office (GAO) report cited in Ann Scott Tyson, "Attacks in Iraq Continue to Decline," Washington Post, 31 Oct. 2007. 

(28) Quoted in O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 10-11.

(29) See ICCC, "U.S. Deaths by Month/Year."

(30) See ICCC, "Iraqis." Available at http://icasualties.org/oif/IraqiDeaths.aspx.

(31) Based on ICCC figures.

(32) The October version of the "Iraq Index" included a table with estimates up to late 2006, but the November version did not include that table.

(33) For example, GAO, "Operation Iraqi Freedom: DOD Assessment of Iraqi Security Forces’ Units as Independent Not Clear Because ISF Support Capabilities Are Not Fully Developed," GAO-08-143R, 30 Nov. 2007, 2. Available from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08143r.pdf. Also see GAO, "DOD Should Provide Congress and the American Public with Monthly Data on Enemy-Initiated Attacks in Iraq in a Timely Manner," GAO-07-1048R, 28 Sept. 2007. Available from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071048r.pdf.

(34) US DoD, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," Sept. 2007 (Report to Congress), 18. Available from http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/Signed-Version-070912.pdf.

(35) US DoD, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," Dec. 2007, 16.

(36) O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 5-6, 8.

(37) Patrick Cockburn, "What’s Really Happened During the Surge? Nothing is Resolved in Iraq," Counterpunch (online), 12 Dec. 2007. Available from http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick12122007.html.

(38) See "Iraq Poll September 2007" (poll commissioned by BBC, ABC, and NHK news agencies), 29. Available at http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/resist/2007/09bbciraqipoll.pdf.

(39) Ibid, 8, 12, 27.

(40) Figure based on various government and military press briefings from 2007, quoted in O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 6.

(41) Quoted in Ibid., 26. For a September report by the US government on the deterioration of security in southern Iraq, see Ann Scott Tyson, "Security Took ‘Turn for Worse’ in Southern Iraq, Report Says," Washington Post, 18 Sept. 2007. The decline in US casualties in Fall 2007 may also have had something to do with changing US war tactics, including the increased use of "unmanned drones." See Lolita C. Bandor, "AP Exclusive: Military’s Use of Unmanned Drones Soars in Iraq," International Herald Tribune, 1 Jan. 2008.

(42) Percentages calculated from data quoted in O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 8, 24, 30. The stats on Iraqi Security Forces come from the US Department of State, "Iraq Weekly Status Report." Available at http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rpt/iraqstatus/. Data on attacks come from Joseph A. Christoff of the General Accounting Office, "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," GAO-08-231T, 30 Oct. 2007, 2, 5. Available from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08231t.pdf.

(43) GAO, "DOD Should Provide Congress and the American Public with Monthly Data on Enemy-Initiated Attacks in Iraq in a Timely Manner." My emphasis.

(44) Major General James E. Simmons, quoted in Tyson and Anderson, "Attacks on U.S. Troops in Iraq Grow in Lethality, Complexity."

(45) For detailed information on Iraqis’ attitudes toward the US-led forces in late August 2007, see "Iraq Poll September 2007." The poll results indicate Iraqis’ overwhelming lack of confidence (at best) or direct hostility (at worst) toward the occupying forces, and show that 65-90 percent of Iraqis believed the "surge" had either increased violence and conflict or had made no real change. In addition, the results show that Iraqis generally think that access to services like water, electricity, and medical care has stayed approximately the same or has become worse since February 2007.

(46) The last reliable estimate of the size of the Iraq insurgency that I can find is from October 2006, and estimates a total of "20,000-30,000, including militias." The number of "foreign fighters" in November 2006 is estimated at 800-2,000 (contrary to official rhetoric, foreigners comprise a very small portion of the insurgency, and almost none of those 800-2,000 come from Iran). See the October 1, 2007 version of O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 26-27. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf

(47) UNHCR, Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World, April 2007.

(48) UNHCR, "UNHCR Says Time Not Right for Large-Scale Iraq Repatriation," 23 Nov. 2007.

(49) IOM, Iraq Displacement: 2007 Mid-Year Review. Available at http://www.iom-iraq.net/Library/2007%20Iraq%20Displacement%20Mid-Year%20Review.pdf.

(50) United Nations Children’s Fund, "UNICEF: Little Respite for Iraq’s Children in 2007," 21 Dec. 2007, 1. Available from http://www.uniraq.org/documents/State%20of%20Iraqs%20Children%20PR_181207_EN.pdf.

(51) See the data quoted in O’Hanlon and Campbell, "Iraq Index," 41. These estimates are conservative, however, because the authors by their own admission "assumed that there has been an improvement in unemployment levels [since the invasion], and hence weighted information supporting such a conclusion heavier than contradictory data reports."

(52) Based on the fact that in August 2007 higher percentages of Iraqis rated access to clean water, electricity, and employment as "very bad" or "quite bad" than in February 2007. For medical care and education there were slight decreases from February to August in terms of how many rated those services "very" or "quite bad" (69 to 67 percent and 56 to 49 percent, respectively). See "Iraq Poll September 2007."

(53) Ibid., 12.

(54) Ibid., 8, 11.

(55) US DoD, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," Dec. 2007, 11.

Leave a comment