In October, the British medical journal The Lancet published a study by researchers from the Johns Hop-kins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Baghdad’s Al Mustansiriya University, alleging that “654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003,” than would have died had Saddam Hussein remained in power. That research was quickly subjected to expert scrutiny, and questions about its methodology cast doubt on its findings.
The publication’s timing was perhaps no coincidence, as it came before the November 2006 U.S. congressional elections. The study supposed that, on average, “a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms” – in the critical words of the independent Iraqi Body Count. The IBC stands by its daily reporting of Iraqi casualties, which of late, as the American mid-term elections approached, peaked at about a hundred fatalities daily.
Yet too many Iraqis are dead, wounded and marked by torture, not from the U.S. war for regime change, but going back to 1968, when Saddam Hussein seized power in Baghdad. By inflating Iraqi deaths since March 2003, The Lancet article trivializes Iraqi suffering under his rule. Further, it is churlish to politicize the casualties from wars to end tyranny and free a people traumatized by brutal regimes. The liberation of Iraq caused unavoidable deaths, as did the liberation of Europe and Japan in World War Two. Any effort to end genocide in Darfur will cause Sudanese casualties, as did Vietnam’s 1979 intervention to stop Pol Pot’s slaughter of Cambodians, or the Tanzanian army’s liberation of Uganda from murderous Idi Amin.
This October, IBC estimated the maximum number of Iraqi dead following Saddam’s overthrow at more than 49,000, including the casualties of operations by the U.S.-led coalition and those killed by both Iraqi criminals and foreign jihadists. And this figure comes with the usual caveats of reporting from multiple sources in a fluid insurgency. Apart from the discrepancy between the IBC and Lancet counts, what is seen most clearly here is the reluctance of western sources to report the terrible reality of Muslim on Muslim violence throughout the Arab-Muslim world.
Iraqi casualties from the radical Islamist insurgency and sectarian Sunni-Shia violence exceed those from American-led military operations. The Bush administration may perhaps be faulted for not anticipating that level of violence and civilian casualties – but only in hindsight. No one in Washington or London could have imagined the ferocity of the militants who punish the Iraqis who opt for freedom. To anticipate such Muslim on Muslim violence would have required an admission of that tendency within Muslim history. No regional expert in the White House, nor even the astute historian of the region Bernard Lewis, warned ahead of Iraq’s liberation that Islamist insurgency might seek to drown Iraqi freedom in blood and tears.
Muslim on Muslim violence is intrinsic to Arab-Muslim history. The tribal lust for power and cruelty in warfare are not unique to Middle East culture. But such tribalism warped Islam as a faith tradition in the early seventh century, right at the outset of the post-prophetic years. Among its first victims were Prophet Mohammed’s family members: his cousin and son-in-law Ali, and his grandsons Hasan and Husayn.
Al Qaeda chief in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed this June, had come there from Jordan to precipitate a naked Sunni-Shia sectarian war. He had a large following in Jordan, and his mayhem in Iraq was not widely condemned by Arab leaders. His political violence was not an anomaly to his culture. Neither is Osama bin Laden’s ideology alien to Saudi Arabia’s sort of Islam, exported throughout the Sunni Muslim world. We have witnessed uninhibited Muslim on Muslim violence in Taliban Afghanistan, Darfur’s rolling genocide, the decade-long siege of Algeria, Saddam’s massacre of Iraqi Kurds, the bloodletting among Palestinians, and the clan warfare in Somalia.
Muslim on Muslim violence, crippling the Arab-Muslim world, is documented in R.J. Rummel’s Statistics of Democide. He provides the grisly example of Pakistan’s 1971 genocide in East Pakistan, which “succeeded in killing perhaps 1,500,000 people, created 10,000,000 refugees who had fled to India, provoked a war with India, [and] incited a countergenocide of 150,000 non-Bengalis.” As a young adult, I saw firsthand what Rummel describes.
The Lancet article’s flaw was worse than just questionable methodology. It shifted the Arab-Muslim culpability in Iraq’s bloodletting to the American-led coalition. It made room for Arabs and Muslims to deny their responsibility in making their own grim history.
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