How many Iraqis have died since the U.S. led invasion in 2003?
U.S. General Tommy Franks famously said, “We don’t do body counts.” The Bush administration coyly suggests the total is fewer than 100,000, while [link=”http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/journals/lancet/s0140673606694919.pdf”]The Lancet[/link] famously reported 655,000 deaths in 2006. A recent study by [link=”http://www.opinion.co.uk/Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=78″]Opinion Research Business[/link] puts the number at over 1,200,000, with nearly a quarter of Iraqi households losing at least one member to the war since 2003, or roughly 1 in 23 Iraqis dead.
[link=”http://www.iraqbodycountexhibit.org/”]The Iraq Body Count Exhibit[/link] (IBCE), in conjunction with [link=”http://www.peacehouse.net/”]Peace House[/link], erected a temporary memorial to the fallen in Iraq, canvasing the entire length of the Southern Oregon University campus in the lawns adjacent Siskiyou Boulevard. One tiny flag represents five deaths–white for Iraqis, red for Americans. IBCE is clearly using the two-year-old Lancet figure in their tribute to the Iraqi dead, though a volunteer helping to drive the 130,000 flags into the grass suggested this was a budgetary/resource limitation, rather than a matter of accuracy. Had IBCE used the latest estimates, the memorial would require a quarter-million flags, which likely would’ve consumed every inch on grass on the SOU campus.
Strolling along the boulevard, trying to find the photograph that encompassed the greatest number of flags, I realized it was impossible. I couldn’t even shoot a third of them at once. Just like I couldn’t capture this vast memorial on my Canon, are we capable of visualizing the dead of Mesopotamia? The continued ambiguity over the actual number of dead only further distorts this shocking reality.
Nor can we dismiss the dead as enemy combatants. The wildest estimates of al-Qaeda and the global jihaddist movement’s membership rarely exceed 30,000, with most estimates closer to 18,000. Estimates for the “legitimate” Iraqi insurgency are virtually identical. The overwhelming majority are innocent civilians.
Ultimately, numbers and symbols are poor substitutes for an individual human being’s story, murdered by a conflict beyond their control. ICBE states on their website that the exhibit is not political, and the numbers speak for themselves–a statement I find, despite my admiration for their memorial, false.
The memorial comes down on May 3, so do take a few minutes to wander among the flags before it ships off to Sacramento.