In Iraq, tens of people are dying every day as a result of Iraqi resistance operations against US, British and Iraqi government forces, operations against resistance groups, and fighting between militias representing various political factions (most of them sectarian). No one doubts that the US has failed utterly in its agenda there, and that the country is in chaos. In the USand Britain, however, the real war appears not to be in Iraq at all, but between politicians trying to exploit the Iraqi tragedy for their own ends. With the Republicans in danger of losing control of Congress in the forthcoming mid-term elections, and the Blair government under increasing pressure on all fronts in Britain, in both countries the suffering of the Iraqi people appears secondary to the damage that the war may cause their political interests.
In these circumstances, an independent report by American academics, published last month in Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Society, suggesting that about 655,000 people may have died as a result of the invasion, was bound to be dynamite. The report was swiftly dismissed as biased, flawed or worse, despite the fact that it was conducted by reputable statisticians at John Hopkins University, using methods recommended for calculating death-rates in the aftermath of disasters. Let us be clear on what the report said: it did not say that US troops had killed 650,000 people, as some journalists suggested, to discredit either the US or the report. It said that conditions created by the invasion had resulted in between 393,000 and 934,000 extra deaths, over and above the number who would normally have died in the same period. (The figure of 650,000 is simply the median of these two figures.) These conditions include military action, but also the destruction of the country’s infrastructure: the lack of clean water, the destruction of hospitals, the economic impact of the war, the consequences of disease, and so on. For all the propaganda launched against the report, it is certainly the best available estimate of the number of lives lost since the war, particularly because the occupation and Iraqi authorities have deliberately not kept accurate records themselves.
But it does not adequately reflect the cost to Iraq of the US’s ambitions in the country. For that we must factor in not only losses of life and economic costs, but also the damage that has been done to the fabric of Iraqi society and the lives of individuals. A once prosperous and advanced Arab Muslim country has been reduced to poverty, ruins and civil strife, and the lives and futures of millions have been blighted for generations. What is more, relations between Iraq’s diverse communities may never recover, and the ripples of this strife are causing damage beyond the country. None of which is likely to concern the US or Britain much, but all are realities that Muslims should not forget, in case the US comes offering to help or liberate other Muslim countries in the future.