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The Growing Toll of Iraqi Civilian Deaths

Dr. César Chelala

"The suffering that Iraqi men, women and children are enduring today is unbearable and unacceptable," the director of operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, stated Wednesday on releasing a ICRC report on the situation in Iraq after four years of the US-led war. Entitled "Civilians Without Protection - The Ever-Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq," Mr. Kraehenbuehl added that the humanitarian situation is "affecting in one way or another, directly or indirectly, all Iraqis today."

Studies of this nature have been systematically rejected by the Bush and Blair administrations. When, in October 2006, a team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimated that 655,000 more people had died in Iraq since the beginning of the war than would have died if the invasion had not taken place, the British foreign secretary, Margaret Becket, stated that the figures, published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, were inaccurate. President Bush stated that the Lancet study was not a credible report.

In contrast, however, scientists at the UK's Department for International Development concluded that the study's methods were "tried and tested," and that the authors' approach, if anything, underestimated civilian mortality. That conclusion was supported by President Bush's own Iraq Study Group in indicating that violence in Iraq is markedly under-reported.

The new ICRC report lends added credibility to The Lancet report. Civilians, it says, many of them children, bear the brunt of relentless violence, while inadequate security conditions are disrupting the lives of millions of Iraqis. Food shortages have contributed to the rise in malnutrition; inadequate water, sewage and electricity infrastructure contribute to a decline in public health. Fuel shortages affecting power stations further aggravate the worsening crisis. Hospitals and primary healthcare centers lack supplies and are forced to rely on unreliable back-up generators,

It is estimated that some two million Iraqis are now displaced persons within their own country, while two more millions have are now refugees abroad. The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that since February 2006, more than 100,000 families have been displaced. High among those fleeing the country are medical professionals and nurses; according to estimates published by the Iraqi Ministry of Health more than half of Iraq's doctors have left. With fewer personnel, the additional influx of civilian casualties in the hospitals places the system under inconceivable strain.

Despite all evidence, some political leaders continue to insist that the situation is improving, as though the brutal TV images of the war did not exist, as if it were a fantasy invented by evil spirits. The chasm between the people's view of reality and that of their leaders has rarely been greater.

The editor of The Lancet, Dr. Richard Horton, stated recently: "Our collective failure has been to take our political leaders at their word". Senator John McCain, speaking recently to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, affirmed that to continue the war is, indeed, to pursue the right road. And, added McCain, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, "it is necessary and just." The above-mentioned facts should prove to him that it is neither.

Dr. César Chelala, an international public health consultant, is a foreign correspondent for the Middle East Times International (Australia).

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