January 13, 2006 /

Ignoring Civilian Lives In Iraq

Last week a report came out about one of our missiles targeting a house with insurgents going off pass and hitting a home of Iraqi’s, killing 9. John Hopkins has done an interesting study which is of course being dismissed by Bush and Blair. A little more than a year ago, a group of Johns […]

Last week a report came out about one of our missiles targeting a house with
insurgents going off pass and hitting a home of Iraqi’s, killing 9. John Hopkins
has done an interesting study which is of course being dismissed by Bush and

A little more than a year ago, a group of Johns Hopkins University
researchers reported that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as a result
of the Iraq war during its first 14 months, with about 60,000 of the deaths
directly attributable to military violence by the US and its allies.

The study, published in The Lancet, the highly respected British medical
journal, applied the same rigorous, scientifically validated methods that
the Hopkins researchers had used in estimating that 1.7 million people had
died in Congo in 2000. Though the Congo study had won the praise of the Bush
and Blair administrations and had become the foundation for UN Security

Council and State Department actions, this study was quickly declared
invalid by the US government and supporters of the war.

This dismissal was hardly surprising, but after a brief flurry of
protest, even the anti-war movement (with a number of notable exceptions)
has largely ignored the ongoing carnage that the study identified.

There numbers may be off slightly but the truth of the matter is no one
really knows. Bush has said 30,000, this report puts the number at 100,000. It
is safe to say the number rests somewhere with in that range.

That is not the most interesting part of the article though. The most
interesting part helps explain why we we are bombing civilian houses.

We can gain some perspective on this military strategy by imagining
similar rules of engagement for a police force in some large US city.
Imagine, for example, a team of criminals in that city fleeing into a nearby
apartment building after gunning down a police officer. It would be
unthinkable for the police simply to call in airships to demolish the
structure, killing any people – helpless hostages, neighbors or even friends
of the perpetrators – who were with or near them.

In fact, the rules of engagement for the police, even in such a situation
of extreme provocation, call for them to “hold their fire” – if necessary
allowing the perpetrators to escape – if there is a risk of injuring
civilians. And this is a reasonable rule … because we value the lives of
innocent US citizens over our determination to capture a criminal, even a

But in Iraqi cities, US values and priorities are quite differently
arranged. The contrast derives from three important principles under which
the Iraq war is being fought: that the war should be conducted to absolutely
minimize the risk to US troops; that guerrilla fighters should not be
allowed to escape if there is any way to capture or kill them; and that
Iraqi civilians should not be allowed to harbor or encourage the resistance

We are familiar with the first principle, the determination to safeguard
American soldiers. It is expressed in the elaborate training and equipment
they are given, as well as the continuing effort to make the equipment even
more effective in protecting them from attack. (This was most recently
expressed in the release of a Pentagon study showing that improved body
armor could have saved as many as 300 American lives since the start of the
war.) It is also expressed in rules of engagement that call for air strikes
such as the one in Baiji.

The alternative to such an air attack (aside from allowing the guerrillas
to escape) would, of course, be to use a unit of troops to root out the
guerrillas. Needless to say, without an effective Iraqi military in place,
such an operation would be likely to expose American soldiers to
considerable risk. The administration of President George W Bush has long
shied away from the high casualty counts that would be an almost guaranteed
result of such concentrated, close-quarters urban warfare, casualty counts
that would surely have a strong negative effect on support in the United
States for its war. (The irony, of course, is that, with air attacks, the US
is trading lower American casualties and stronger support domestically for
ever-lessening Iraqi support and the ever-greater hostility such attacks
bring in their wake.)

The second principle also was applied in Baiji. Rather than allow the
perpetrators to take refuge in a nearby home and then quietly slip away, the
US command decided to take out the house, even though they had no guarantee
that it was uninhabited (and every reason to believe the opposite). The
paramount goal was to kill or capture the suspected guerrilla fighters, and
if this involved the death or injury of multiple Iraqi civilians, the
trade-off was clearly considered worth it. That is, annihilating a family of
12 or 14 Iraqis could be justified, if there was a reasonable probability of
killing or capturing three individuals who might have been setting a
roadside bomb. This is the subtext of Johnson’s comment.

The third principle behind these attacks is only occasionally expressed
by US military and diplomatic personnel, but is nevertheless a foundation of
US strategy as applied in Baiji and elsewhere. Though Bush administration
officials and top US military officers often, for propaganda purposes, refer
to local residents as innocent victims of insurgent intimidation and
terrorism, their disregard for the lives of civilians trapped inside such
buildings is symptomatic of a very different belief: that most Sunni Iraqis
willingly harbor the guerrillas and support their attacks – that they are
not unwilling shields for the guerrillas, but are actively shielding them.
Moreover, this protection of the guerrillas is seen as a critical obstacle
to our military success, requiring drastic punitive action.

As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter
Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger
strategy in which US military power is used to “punish not only the
guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not
cooperating”. A marine calling in to a radio talk show recently stated the
argument more precisely: “You know why those people get killed? It’s because
they’re letting insurgents hide in their house.”

This is troubling. We can justify killing 9 innocent Iraqi’s by saying we
possibly killed 3 insurgents? That is a big gamble with human life. If the Iraqi
security forces are doing as good and are as well manned as they say then it
would be beneficial to the people of Iraq and the security forces for them to
handle the situation. On the job training is very valuable. The picture being
painted here is that there is not enough security forces to cover the country
yet and that is not only disturbing but further proof that the progress in Iraq
is constantly being exaggerated by the administration.

Another problem I have with these actions by the military involves the
blatant disregard for human life. I understand causalities of war is a common
thing and that civilians sometimes get caught in that category. The problem I
have is when we are ignoring civilian lives in order to send a message. The
military is acting as judge, jury and executioner in these instances. This
should really be alarming to the Republican party – the Pro-Life party. They can
sit there and argue and fight over someone like Terri Schiavo yet they can
ignore civilians being killed in Iraq like this? Talk about discrimination. If
they were some American white woman lying there brain dead they would fight yet
these are Iraqi’s, apparently they mean nothing.

If we are still forced to take these barbaric approaches in Iraq then we can
consider the war far from over. We can also expect more of our troops to return
home with mental issues that may lead to suicide. This plan of action is
dangerous, reckless and just plain wrong. It hurts the Iraqis and our troops.
This is something else Congress should look into – after all, Congress makes the
rules and laws for the military according to Article 1 section 8 of the
Constitution. George Bush just commands the military in accordance with those
rules and laws.

You can view the complete article on the John Hopkins study

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