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I'm afraid I can't agree that it's fantastic. Any historian will tell you sorry tales of the rather gruesome and inordinately difficult business of estimating casualities that result from conflicts of various kinds. And the place where quantitative analysis meets partisanship is a very dark one indeed: the antiwar crew have an obvious interest in accepting the highest possible estimate of civilian casualties; the prowar in discrediting the Lancet study.

Personally, as someone who supported the war I'll reserve judgement and concentrate on what is known for sure:

1) Regardless of one's position on this issue, I think everyone should accept that there has been an unecessarily high rate of civilian casualties in this war and I think few people doubt that this is attributable at least to some extent to the mismanagement of the occupation.

2) On the other side, the supporters of the 'resistance' take the opposite track and refuse to acknowledge the murderous nature of the insurgency and its deliberate targetting of civilians. It is wishful thinking on their part to attribute this to a small minority of 'foreign fighters'.

3) No historian would accept one source based on an extrapolation method as the definitive word on the subject. This is not to rule out the possibility that it might turn out to be correct - only that it cannot be accepted on faith - especially where so many others disagree. The reality of the situation is that we will probably never know - but I think this body-count approach is misguided anyway...

4) From this, for example, comes the simple-minded view that Communism is worse than fascism because the former has a higher body count. What is it with people? Is there no room for qualitative difference in their politics? It's no good saying, as Galloway did, that those who died on 7/7 died 'the same death' as those killed by American weapons in Baghdad. If the antiwar movement *really* believed that the focus should be prioritised according to the sheer body-count then why are they so quiet about the Sudan - and Africa in general? And have you ever read a blogger writing about the Congo? The conflict in this area has produced a forum for the greatest loss of human life since the Second World War.

The reality is that civilian casualties are only interesting to the antiwar movement when they are produced by Americans or Jews. Hate to put it so bluntly but I think, despite their protestations, that's basically their position.

Third Avenue

Shuggy - while I agree with many of your points of detail, I don't accept your main argument.

Of course the antiwar crew have an interest in accepting the highest possible estimate of civilian casualties and the prowar in decrediting the Lancet study. But the important point here is whether the Lancet study was properly conducted and whether its results are reliable. And surely knowing the real extent of civilian casualties is extremely important, quite apart from whether or not you oppose the war.

Similarly, you are right that issues like the Congo are underreported. But that does not in any way invalidate the Lancet's work or reduce the impact of its findings.

As for your last comment - well, the antiwar movement can speak for itself, but I don't agree. Take, for example, US attitudes to abuses committed by soldiers. If a US soldier is involved, it's major news. If a British soldier is involved, it gets a mention. If, say, a Nigerian solider is involved, you'd need to see the inside pages of the one of the big papers. This is not because the US likes Nigeria, hates Britain and loathes itself most of all. It is because, sadly, Western society still has a strong tendency to see 'Africa' as being some hopeless morass where bad things inevitably happen. When Europeans or, as you put it, 'Americans or Jews' do things we disapprove of, we feel much more affected because these are people 'like us', from whom we expect elevated moral standards. I see it much more as a residual racism that regrettably still permeates Western thinking, rather than a demonisation of 'Americans or Jews'.


Thanks for the plug, TA.

Shuggy, this is shocking: "The reality is that civilian casualties are only interesting to the antiwar movement when they are produced by Americans or Jews. Hate to put it so bluntly but I think, despite their protestations, that's basically their position."

Not only is it stupid and calumnious to suppose that you can bundle every antiwar activist into this position (never mind the fact that the antiwar activist under discussion in this post has also had a few things to say about the killing of people by the Cambodian, Iranian, Saudi, Sudanese, Colombian, Algerian and Russian governments to name but a few, and even by some egregious groups in Iraq who consider themselves part of the resistance); it is also ridiculous to speak of "Jews" when you know perfectly well that the antiwar movement is concerned with Israel. To conflate Israel with "Jews" is to accept a propaganda ploy used by both Zionists and the extreme Right.

Shame on you, particularly when not a single point in your post was actually able to dispute my analysis - indeed, you don't seem to have grasped that the 'highest estimate' (the Lancet doesn't offer the highest estimate, but leave that to one side) is corroborated by several other studies. To wit, it is corroborated by precisely the studies that the pro-war crowd have been crowing about as contradicting it.

And no, body counts are not the only factor in any consideration about the merits of the war. But they are important enough that it has been deemed necessary by the British government, the pro-war side (to which you belong - why so coy about that?) and several media commentators to make false and sometimes opprobrious claims about the study, its conduct, its conclusions and its authors. You also lead us into a non-sequitur - why not speak of Sudan, if what matters is body counts etc? Well, some of us have spoken about Sudan and argued about it. But the topic under discussion here is whether or not the war on Iraq has made things worse for Iraqis - and in this very straightforward respect, it clearly has. A remarkable fact when you consider that this means it has done more damage than the noxious combination of Saddam, sanctions and repeated bombardments. If the claim is that the war as on balance justifiable on human rights grounds, then one part of the reply is that the human rights situation has massively deteriorated. There are other answers, but that is by no means an insignificant one, and it has the advantage of being amply supported by several detailed and reputable studies.

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