Pentagon Challenge: Ask Iraqis How Many Have Died

The U.S. military is planning a large polling operation in Iraq over
the next three years to help "build robust and positive relations with
the people of Iraq and to assist the Iraqi people in forming a new
government," Walter
Pincus reports
in the Washington Post.

This provides an excellent opportunity to revisit an important question:

How many Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion?

The $15 million-a-year initiative will supplement the military's $100
million-a-year strategic communications operation, which aims to
produce content for Iraqi media that will "engage and inspire" the
population, Pincus notes.

The size and scope of the program "will provide an extraordinary
amount of data," said a former government official. Another former
official noted that $15 million is far more than the State Department
allocates annually for its polling activities worldwide.

Pincus notes that the larger Pentagon project of which this polling is
a part has been controversial in Congress. In particular, Senator Webb
has asked for suspension of the new Army contracts to produce print,
radio and television news stories as well as entertainment programs in

While I support Senator Webb's very reasonable proposal, I would also
like to suggest a different approach to the proposed polling project.

Use it.

In particular, I think Congress should require the Pentagon to ask
Iraqis the following questions:

"How many members of your household have died since March,
2003? How many members of your household have died since March, 2003
due to violence?"

Inclusion of these questions would allow the U.S. government to
estimate how many Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion.

Not only should Congress require the Pentagon to ask these questions,
but Congress should require the Pentagon to use the data so gathered
to create estimates of Iraqi deaths since 2003, and of how many of
those deaths were due to violence. And Congress should require that
those numbers be reported to Congress.

When the "Lancet study" (that is, the Johns Hopkins study) estimated
two years ago that 600,000 Iraqis had died, President Bush dismissed
the study as "not credible," without offering his own estimate, or
explaining why that estimate was "not credible."

Much ink has been spilled since then in the dispute over estimates of
Iraqi casualties (relatively little, however, of that ink has been
spilled in our corporate media in the United States.)

Just Foreign Policy publishes
an extrapolation
of the Lancet study, using the trend which can be
inferred from the Iraq Body Count tally. If the Lancet study estimate
was roughly correct, and if Iraq Body Count gives a roughly accurate
trend, that would suggest more than a million deaths due to violence
in Iraq since March 2003, over and above what would have occurred had
there been no U.S. invasion.

Now, the Bush Administration has the opportunity to set the record
straight. The Pentagon is, apparently, going to be polling Iraqis
anyway, so there would be no additional cost. And if the Pentagon is
going to be polling Iraqis on a regular basis, then the question could
be repeated, so as to arrive at a more accurate estimate.

I double dare the Pentagon to ask Iraqis this question. If the
Pentagon is brave, it will agree.

Of course, it could well be that, facing the prospect of being
required to come up with its own estimate of Iraqi deaths, the
Pentagon would lose interest in polling Iraqis. So be it. But if the
Pentagon is going to poll Iraqis, then this simple question should be
among the questions that they ask.

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