the Disillusioned kid: Who's Counting?
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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Who's Counting?

Zeynep Toufe has posted some interesting thoughts following reports that the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq has entered "the four digit realm", surpassing a thousand. She notes that figures of civilian deaths have not been collated so carefully, although there have been various attempts to come up with a reliable figure. The one figure which nobody seems interested in collating is "how many soldiers or insurgents were killed on their side".

In an attempt to establish a ballpark figure, Toufe turns to a recent claim by Donald Rumsfeld:
... in the last month the Iraqi forces and the coalition forces have probably killed 1,500, 2,000, 2,500 former regime elements, criminals, terrorists. Now is that a lot? Yes. Does that hurt them? Yes. Is it a lot out of 25 million people in a country? No.
This, she suggests, is a quite astonishing statement:
Can you imagine how we'd react to someone who said, well, the United States, they are almost 300 million there so what's 30,000 to them? (Scalewise, that's how Rumsfeld's definition of "not a lot" translates into the U.S. population numbers.) Also, use that number as a guide for the scale of the insurgency: the number of people who died fighting us just last month would scale into 30,000 American lives if the situations were reversed. That's more than half the number of American soldiers who died in Vietnam.
This is a shocking comparison. If we do the same calculations using the UK rather than the US as a comparison (assuming a British population of 60 million) we get a figure of 6,000, almost 100 times the number of British soldiers killed since the war began (65 according to today's Times).

There seems to me, to be three possible conclusions we can draw from this: (1) Rumsfeld's lying, which given his record is entirely plausible; (2) The anti-occupation insurgency is far bigger than we had realised and likely to be a continuing problem for the US and the Allawi government; (3) The insurgency is a major problem, but is being crushed by the US and will eventually run out of recruits. Personally I'd to lean toward (2), but that isn't based on much more than gut-instinct and hardly a reliable guide. Whichever turns out to be the truth, it is inevitable that many more people will die before we find out.

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