Friday, April 14, 2006

Iraq: casualties/Fallujah/WP

Comment re J. Kampfner's article in the Guardian's Comment is Free site
reply to:


"sybarita, posting a Johann Hari article means I am wrong? Johann Hari changed he mind about two years ago - there's nothing new about that. His latest piece on it was quite a shoddy piece of work - he made up a casualty figure that has no scientific basis and repeated the propaganda myth about the US using chemical weapons on civilians. It was a cheap appeal to the Independent newspaper's fan base. Not his finest hour."

Not yours either; it's your reply which is "cheap" and "shoddy."

First it hardly matters WHEN Hari changed his mind, but he did defend it for some time, e.g. from last year

"... Hari said he never believed the official justification of the war that Saddam needed to be disarmed because of the threat posed by his alleged biological and chemical weapons. It was his crimes against humanity that justified the dictator’s overthrow. Acknowledging that there were good grounds for being skeptical about the motives of the US for invading Iraq, Hari is nevertheless certain that Iraq is an immeasurably better place without Saddam Hussein."

08/02/2005 (report of a conference a few weeks before)

But now that he disagrees with you, any old slur will do. He says: "at least 150,000 Iraqi corpses" - what "scientific basis" do you have for saying he's wrong ? Cf.:

"Estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths is based on a study published in The Lancet medical journal in October 2004. The study concluded that at least 100,000 and as many as 280,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the first 18 months of the occupation.
Oddly, US authorities have questioned the methodology used in this study, but it was the same methodology used by the US Centers for Disease Control to estimate deaths from disease outbreak in third world countries, the same methodology the US and UK have always accepted in the past when counting deaths in Congo or other nations where the American or British military are not directly involved.

We have accepted this study as a reasonable estimate, and we use the study's minimal estimate as our baseline for Iraqi civilian deaths."

And that was in 2004.

It is not a "propaganda myth" that white phosphorus was used on Fallujah; after initial denials it was admitted:

"That's right. Not from Al Jazheera, or Al Arabiya, but the US fucking Army, in their very own publication, from the (WARNING: pdf file) March edition of Field Artillery Magazine in an article entitled "The Fight for Fallujah":

"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

In other words the claim by the US Government that White Phosphorus was used only for illumination at Fallujah had been pre-emptively debunked by the Army. Indeed, the article goes on to make clear that soldiers would have liked to have saved more WP rounds to use for "lethal missions."

However, as Mark Kraft, an emailer to Eric Alterman's blog, Altercation, points out today, the Field Artillery Magazine article fails to inform its audience that

. . . there is no way you can use white phosphorus like that without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature."

So let's have less cheap and shoddy stuff from you.

Reply 2:

Mike1: "You've taken the Lancet's most likely guess, 100,000, and their maximum guess, which they say is as likely as their minimum guess, 8,000, and presented that as if it was the range. That was as dishonest as Hari making up 150,000"

The dishonesty is yours; it's quite obvious that you are going to dismiss any evidence which contradicts your view. When you are clearly shown to be wrong, e.g. about when Hari changed his mind, you just ignore it and move on, hoping that others won't notice. The difference between you and Hari is that while he stubbornly defended the war till at least the beginning of last year, he has enough sense and integrity to admit he was wrong when the evidence becomes overwhelming (like many other former prominent apologists for the war, here and in the US). You just refuse to accept the evidence and pig-headedly try to bluster on. Things like this, re Fallujah: "good work was done", are just contemptible.

Hari said "at least 150,000 corpses" that seems a reasonable estimate in 2006 given the Lancet study in 2004.

"Needless to say, I will not be trusting a survey that was conducted within a country where an intense insurgency has been going on that has a margin of error greater than an opinion poll. The same type of studies conducted on Darfur, showing 400,000 excess deaths, are not trusted by the government or the media either, due to the uncertainty of the situation on the ground. It's also misleading in that it is an *excess deaths* figure rather than a direct civilian casulty rate of war."

It wasn't "misleading" it was made quite clear in the report and the fact is war does have indirect consequences which are lethal. Here is the Economist's conclusions (not exactly a far-left journal) about the Lancet study:

"Statistically, 33 is a relatively small sample (though it is the best that could be obtained by a small number of investigators in a country at war). That is the reason for the large range around the central value of 98,000, and is one reason why that figure might be wrong. (Though if this is the case, the true value is as likely to be larger than 98,000 as it is to be smaller.) It does not, however, mean, as some commentators have argued in response to this study, that figures of 8,000 or 194,000 are as likely as one of 98,000. Quite the contrary. The farther one goes from 98,000, the less likely the figure is.

So the discrepancy between the Lancet estimate and the aggregated press reports is not as large as it seems at first. The Lancet figure implies that 60,000 people have been killed by violence, including insurgents, while the aggregated press reports give a figure of 15,000, counting only civilians. Nonetheless, Dr Roberts points out that press reports are a passive-surveillance system. Reporters do not actively go out to many random areas and see if anyone has been killed in a violent attack, but wait for reports to come in. And, Dr Roberts says, passive-surveillance systems tend to undercount mortality. For instance, when he was head of health policy for the International Rescue Committee in the Congo, in 2001, he found that only 7% of meningitis deaths in an outbreak were recorded by the IRC's passive system.

The study is not perfect. But then it does not claim to be. The way forward is to duplicate the Lancet study independently, and at a larger scale. Josef Stalin once claimed that a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths a mere statistic. Such cynicism should not be allowed to prevail, especially in a conflict in which many more lives are at stake. Iraq seems to be a case where more statistics are sorely needed.

"WP was not used on civilians - it was to shake and bake insurgents in deserted Falluja. It is classed as an incendiary weapon. Falluja had the lowest casualty rate for an urban combat zone of that size in the history of warfare - great work was done."

What a marked contrast; any counter evidence is treated with the utmost scepticism and any excuse is found to reject it, but you readily accept any US propaganda. Firstly it was used knowing that some civilians were likely to be still in Falajuh, and secondly, it is illegal to use it on combatants anyway:

"This denial has been accepted by most of the mainstream media. UN conventions, the Times said, "ban its use on civilian but not military targets". But the word "civilian" does not occur in the chemical weapons convention. The use of the toxic properties of a chemical as a weapon is illegal, whoever the target is.

The Pentagon argues that white phosphorus burns people, rather than poisoning them, and is covered only by the protocol on incendiary weapons, which the US has not signed. But white phosphorus is both incendiary and toxic. The gas it produces attacks the mucous membranes, the eyes and the lungs. As Peter Kaiser of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told the BBC last week: "If ... the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because ... any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

The US army knows that its use as a weapon is illegal. In the Battle Book, published by the US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, my correspondent David Traynier found the following sentence: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.

"...But buried in this hogwash is a grave revelation. An assault weapon the marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35% thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65% standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "The expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous."

...a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets." It is hard to see how you could use these weapons in Falluja without killing civilians."

George Monbiot,3604,1647716,00.html

Please spare us more of your "cheap" and "shoddy" excuses and your contemptible gloating over the deaths in Fallujah.

Reply to Logos

Logos: "Just, what I hope will be the final word on Iraqi civilian casualties which have loomed so large in this debate."

What an arrogant clown.

"1.The numbers, (although any civilian death is a tragedy) were the lowest of any modern war."

What were the numbers ? It was a very short "war" - so hardly comparable with WWII, Vietnam, etc. The question is were the "numbers" at all avoidable or in any way justified?

"2 In a war against terrorists it's almost impossible to distinguish civilians from fighters."

Oh, so that's OK then, kill them all - women, children, old people...

"3 Part of the strategy of terrorists is to embed themselves in civilian areas, in effect using women and children as human shields and using their deaths as propoganda for their cause (ably assisted by their apologists in the West!)."

Oh yes, it's all the fault of these evil "terrorists" who actually fight from where they live - how disgraceful. You really are an idiot.

"So much for the moral high ground of the anti-war brigade on this issue!"

I'm sure you're really glowing with pride over your CBBC level analysis.


It seems i was beaten to all of my points by Paul Lambert and Sybarita! Jinx!

Good call, you two - Sybarita, good responses earlier up the thread as well [those above].


Blogger Pete said...

Hi, you may be interested to know there are some video links on my first blog on the subject of white phosphorus.

What does it matter?


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