But We're Not Counting
December 13, 2005 - 11:06am ET
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Yesterday, President Bush did something highly out of character for him: He answered a question—from a citizen, no less—directly. In public. Just when we'd all gotten used to Scott McClellan constantly telling us that he can't comment, the president answered lawyer Didi Goldmark's question of how many Iraqis had been killed with, "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."
The war has been going on for 33 months, and yesterday was the first time Bush acknowledged that coalition soldiers aren't the only people dying.
But Bush's 30,000 figure simply can't be taken at face value—especially since he didn't elaborate who, exactly, he was counting. Does he mean insurgents? Iraqi civilians who got caught in the crossfire? Iraqi troops? All of the above?
The Pentagon, of course, has long held the position that it doesn't count enemy deaths (expect when it needs to show that progress is being made. Then counting is okay.) Because of the no-count policy, it's been up to citizen groups and human rights organizations to tally Iraqi deaths, and their totals vary. Iraq Body Count estimates 27,000 to 31,000 civilian deaths (not including Iraqi soldiers). The peer-reviewed British medical journal Lancet last year published research citing 100,000 civilian deaths. The Brookings Institute's Iraq Index estimates up to 18,715 civilian deaths, not including the civilians killed in major combat operations in the first months of the war. The Iraqiyun humanitarian organization in Baghdad estimated that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed, with 55 percent of those deaths women and children under age 12.
Bush's casualty remarks came at the end of a speech hailing Iraq's upcoming elections and the country's emerging democracy. "The year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East and the history of freedom," he said. "No nation in history has made the transition to democracy without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts."
Setbacks? Is that what we're calling civilian deaths these days?
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