Murphy's Law: February 20, 2003


With war in Iraq looming, experts are showing up everywhere telling us how many people are going to be killed. What makes this interesting is that there is still no agreement on how many were killed in the 1991 war. The higher estimates (up to 100,000 Iraqi dead) were pure guesses made at the end of the fighting. When the battlefield, and Iraqi cities, were examined, it was found that the number of Iraqi military dead was probably less than 5,000 (remember all those Iraqis trying to surrender, very few actually fought, and when they did, the majority surrendered after some of their buddies were killed.) Civilian deaths were probably less than 1,000. Even anti-American advocacy groups that visited Iraq after the war were surprised at how precise the US bombing was, and how few civilians casualties resulted. But a lot of experts estimating deaths from the war like to add deaths from the Shia/Kurdish rebellion right after the war, and the food and medicine shortages of the 1990s. In these cases, the deaths were probably in the hundreds of thousands. But what is missed here is these deaths were caused by Iraqis killing other Iraqis. The rebellions right after the war were not the first by the Shias or Kurds. Both groups had rebelled against the Sunni minority many times in the previous decades (and centuries, for that matter.) The deaths from starvation and lack of medicine were deliberate moves by Saddam to suppress rebellious attitudes among Iraqis who didn't like him. Noting the pattern of deaths in the 1991 war, Saddam is openly stationing troops and weapons in residential neighborhoods of non-Sunni Iraqis. How that will play out in the next war is hard to say. U.S. psychological warfare messages sent into Iraq over the last few months has made it clear that any officers hiding their troops among civilians will be held personally responsible if there are dead Iraqi civilians as a result. This could cause some strange military maneuvers when the fighting starts. The US is determined to limit civilian casualties in any new Iraq war, and has more precise weapons to achieve that goal. So it's a contest between Saddam trying to use Iraqi civilians as shields for his troops, and the US trying to avoid killing civilians.


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