At Least 100,000 Civilians Have Lost Their Lives Since Iraq Was Invaded in March 2003

Reported at http://www.iol.co.za on October 29, 2004:

The first scientific study of the human cost of the Iraq war suggests that at least 100,000 civilians have lost their lives since their country was invaded in March 2003.

More than half of those who died were women and children killed in air strikes, researchers say. … The study, published in The Lancet, was critical of the failure by American forces to count Iraqi casualties. Clare Short, the UK cabinet minister who resigned over the war, said: "It is really horrifying. How many more lives are to be taken? It is no wonder, given this tragic death toll, that the resistance to the occupation is growing."

Public health experts from the US and Iraq who carried out a survey of 1,000 households in 33 randomly selected neighborhoods of the country in September say that heart attacks, strokes and chronic illness were the main causes of death before the invasion.

Afterwards, violence was found to be the main cause of death. The Lancet, which published the research in its online edition yesterday, said it was "a remarkable piece of work by a courageous team of scientists" which had been completed under testing circumstances.

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Reported at http://www.iol.co.za on November 9, 2004:

Residents in the city said a US air strike had destroyed a clinic that had been receiving casualties after US forces seized the main hospital on Monday night. Some medical staff and patients had been killed at the one-story Popular Clinic in a central district, they added.

A doctor at the main Fallujah hospital who escaped arrest when it was taken, said the city was running out of medical supplies and only a few clinics remained open.

"There is not a single surgeon in Fallujah. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move." "A 13-year-old child just died in my hands," he said by telephone from a house where he had gone to help the wounded.

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Reported at http://www.iol.co.za on February 1, 2004:

It is a very strange affair. Not since the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein had there been such a gap between the reality of politics in Iraq and the picture presented by the United States and British governments. The poll on Sunday was portrayed as if Washington and London had finally been able to reach their goal of delivering democracy to Iraqis. In fact, the US postponed elections to a distant future after the 2003 invasion. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein had been so swift that the American administration thought it could rule Iraq directly and with little Iraqi involvement.

It was only towards the end of 2003 that the US made two unpleasant discoveries. First, the guerrilla attacks in Sunni districts of Iraq were escalating by the day. They were supposedly confined to "the Sunni triangle", a description which has a comfortingly limited ring to it, but in practice is an area larger than Britain.

The second development which Paul Bremer, the head of the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority, was slow to understand was that an elderly Shi'a cleric living in an alleyway in the holy city of Najaf had more influence than any of the former Iraqi exiles on the US payroll. In June 2003, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shi'a leader, issued a fatwa or religious ruling, saying that those who drew up Iraq's constitution must be elected, not nominated by the US and the Iraqi Governing Council whose members Washington had appointed. In November 2003 he issued a further ruling saying that the transitional government must be elected. Shi'a leaders believed they had made a grave mistake after Britain defeated the Turkish army and occupied what became Iraq during the World War 1. It was Shi'as who revolted against the British occupation in 1920, with the result that Britain relied on the Sunni community to rule Iraq and the Sunnis kept their grip on power under the monarchy, the republic and Saddam Hussein.

The reason why there was a poll on Sunday was that the US, facing an escalating war against the five million Sunnis, dared not provoke revolt by the 15-16 million Shi'as. The price the US paid was to have an election in which the Shi'as would show that they are the majority of Iraqis. But will the election on Sunday involve a real transfer of power to the Shi'as?

Last June, Iraqi sovereignty was supposedly transferred to the US-appointed interim government of Iyad Allawi. The change was largely a mirage. The government still depends for its existence on the presence of 150 000 US troops. The wall-to-wall media coverage of the election on Sunday obscured several realities of political life in Iraq. The national assembly now being elected will have limited powers. It is constituted so no single community can dominate the others. But, as in Lebanon, this may be a recipe for paralysis. The assembly must elect a president and two vice-presidents, and they will in turn chose a prime minister and ministers. The successful candidate will be the person with the least enemies.

The Shi'as were not going to the polling stations on Sunday for the pleasure of risking mortars and suicide bombers. Their leaders have told them that they will obtain real power for the first time. Some US commentators have wondered if Washington might not be able to hold Iraq or at least remain in covert control by relying on the Kurds and the Shi'as. Together they make up 80 percent of the population. This is known as "the 20 percent solution" whereby the US will able to deal with a rebellion supported by the Sunni Arabs, who make up only 20 percent of the population. This policy, though momentarily comforting for Washington and London, is based on a misconception. The Sunnis are resisting the US occupation in arms. The Shi'as have not joined this rebellion, though Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army fought the US Marines for Najaf last August. A central feature of Iraqi politics is that since Saddam's overthrow, the US has become steadily more unpopular in Iraq outside Kurdistan. This is true of the Shi'as as well as the Sunnis. An opinion poll by Zogby International in the last few days shows that the Sunni Arabs, who want the US out now or very soon, total 82 percent. The proportion of Shi'as wanting the US to go is less than the Sunnis but still overwhelming at 69 percent. Shi'a religious leaders had been telling their followers to vote on Sunday as the quickest way to end the occupation.

The unpopularity of the US presence in Shi'a districts is confirmed by interviews in the street. "What did the US ever do for us?" asked one of a group of labourers, all Shi'as, unloading bottled gas cylinders from a truck. "God bless Saddam!" Praise for Saddam Hussein from a Shi'a in a public place would have been unheard of 18 months ago. Men waiting for hours in the long queues outside petrol stations all spontaneously criticised the US, though many of them said they would vote.

The enthusiasm with which so many Shi'as went to the polls on Sunday is a doubt-edged weapon. They did so in the belief that their ballots would translate into power. They will not be satisfied if the new national assembly is a photocopy of the present government, nominally sovereign, but largely dependent on the US.

The fact that there has been an election will impress international opinion, but in the immediate future it changes very little in Iraq. The world is full of parliaments duly elected by a free ballot, but power stays elsewhere with the army, the security services or, in the case of Iraq today, an occupying foreign power.

In the former Soviet states, these are known as "Potemkin parliaments", intended to impress visitors with the trappings of democracy but without authority.

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