New Figure Puts Iraqi Dead at 85,000, Reignites Civilian Casualty Debate

The most authoritative civilian death toll to date sparks a re-assessment of the Iraq invasion

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As America's military involvement in Iraq winds down, much of the wrangling between hawks and doves has shifted to Afghanistan. However, a new report by the Iraqi government stating that at least 85,000 Iraqis were killed in sectarian violence between 2004 and 2008 has given commentators pause. The Iraqi civilian death toll has long been one of the most contested figures of the war. Estimates have ranged from 600,000 casualties--the figure provided by the British scientific medical journal The Lancet--to over 1 million. Reviewing the new report, most pundits on the left and right agree that the estimate is conservative. (The total excludes insurgents and casualties that occurred during the 2003 invasion.) But how that affects their assessment of the Iraq invasion is another story:

  • Let's Remove Politics from Casualty Numbers, writes Spencer Ackerman:" I have always felt uncomfortable with any of the unofficial death-toll reporting in Iraq. The Lancet’s high-high estimates — 100,000 by 2004made me queasy, and I spent time trying to be as respectful of its authors’ work as I could, because — you know, we should be vigilant about acknowledging deaths that we cause. The critics of the Lancet often seemed driven by the idea that it was inappropriate to acknowledge U.S.-caused deaths. Everyone here was political — it was as if our determination of reality was contingent on which argument would be bolstered or refuted. And these were people’s lives we were discussing." Bottom line, Ackerman says, "The invasion and occupation killed at least 85,000 Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans. Who can honestly say it was worth that cost?"
  • Vindicates the Invasion, writes Rob at Say Anything: "Now, we can disagree as to whether or not the war in Iraq was sound US fiscal policy.  We can debate about whether it’s made our nation more secure or less secure.  But speaking strictly from a humanitarian standpoint, you cannot deny that the US invasion saved lives in Iraq and resulted in a much better political and social situation for the Iraqis. That’s 85,694 deaths over the course of 60 months.  That works out to be 1,428 deaths per month.  Again, a big ugly number. But when you consider that more than double that number of Iraqis were dying under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the truth is that the invasion of Iraq saved lives."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.