Sunday, March 21, 2010

And how do you justify 1.4m Iraqi deaths?

AS many as 1,366,360 Iraqis may have died since the United States-led invasion in 2003. The war has been raging on for seven years, and even though the figures are just an informed estimate, it may be erring on the lower side.

According to a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University in 2006, the number of "extra fatalities" caused by the war could be as high as 655,000, or 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population, on a calculation based on a smaller sample of households that lost family members.

The countries that are actively engaged in the campaign are, of course, disputing these figures, which, if transposed on some of the countries on the map, would strip Tonga, or Kiribati, or Virgin islands, or Cyprus or Seychelles of its entire population.

That's 1.4 million human souls, and that's bigger than the population of Virgin Islands and Jersey and Grenada and the Isle of Man combined.

There could be no justification for the wasting of so many lives, not in the name of democracy, not to remove those so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD), an aim so ironic because in this unholy exercise, mothers have died with their husbands and children and their homes and their cattle in one tangled heap of smouldering waste.

There could be no possible justification for this war and its heavy toll unless it is an attempt to reduce the population of the region in one Malthusian sweep. This is a war that has destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, health system, future and hope; and it has killed many of Iraq's brightest.

And it has sprayed the entire country -- and parts of Europe, too, -- with the dust of depleted uranium, with all dire consequences for present and future generations.

Those are civilians, more than a million, now dead. They do not include more than 100,000 killed in the "turkey run" on the Highway of Death when the Iraqi army (and many civilians, too) were retreating from Kuwait under guarantees from the US that they would not be attacked.

Toys and charred bodies, blood and twisted metal, and the souls of young men who were only too glad to be going home, all strewn on this road. "For all I know, we could've killed thousands," said Coll Anthony Moreno of the 2nd Brigade. His counterpart with the 1st thought that his troops would have buried about 650 Iraqi soldiers alive when the 1st Brigade's tanks moved desert sand over their trenches.

The high death figures are disputed by the occupying forces, but on this, the opinion of Gen Tommy Franks, the man who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, may be instructive. "We don't do body counts," he said in Afghanistan, one year before the attack on Iraq.

"How many Iraqi soldiers then died in the Iraqi invasion?" Gen Colin Powell was asked. "I don't have a clue," he said, "and I don't plan to undertake any real effort to find out."

I mention all the above because I found myself wondering if Tony Blair would have had them somewhere in the back of his mind as he sat so placidly, brows furrowed and face now losing the Blairish boyish charm at the Iraq inquiry now going through its soporific paces in London.

Blair was the British prime minister that jumped into the Bush act, declaring to all who cared to listen that Saddam had WMDs that he could rain on anyone within 45 minutes.

"There was intelligence beyond doubt," Blair said, producing what is now widely derided as the dodgy intelligence dossier, but it did impress Powell at the United Nations when he commended it to them as a meticulous piece of research.

As it turned out, the way the dossier was done was everything I told my son not to do when preparing his school work. "Do not cut and paste, son," I said. "And base everything you say on facts."

And then some smart aleck deconstructed Blair's work and found that part of the intelligence dossier that so impressed Powell had been lifted from an old PhD thesis.

And the 45-minute, between Saddam's finger on the button and heavy metal and gunpowder coming crashing on your head, was just a fib. It made Blair and his intelligence team look like Chicken Licken, which panicked the villagers by saying that the sky was coming a-tumbling on their heads.

But the story got wilder: it was calculus. "The calculus of risk changed," Blair said, handling his reading glasses professor-like. "If those people inspired by religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have."

So that then was the crux of the attack -- Saddam the closet religious fanatic. It made the 1.4 million deaths well worth it.

By Wan A. Hulaimi who also writes under the pen name of Awang Goneng.

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