As President Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom nears the fourth complete year of its occupation and his support falters, the number of casualties due to the American-led invasion continually rises to astonishing numbers. Moreover, these growing numbers add support the stance that the war in Iraq is perpetually spiraling downward into an abyss of complete failure. But what do these numbers mean? What survey or what group is correct? Every website, every article, every person tout different numbers, arrived at with different methodologies. Some are more focused on instant death due to combat and others are more focused on later deaths as a result of combat injuries, and yet others are focused on deaths as a result of the degraded infrastructure.
The more controversial numbers try to pinpoint the number of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the invasion. The website, Iraq Body Count closely monitors Iraqi civilian war deaths with daily reports in English-language media arriving with a death range of 53,101 to 58,704 since March of 2003. Whereas Iraq’s Health Minister, in November 2006, estimated 100,000 to 150,000 deaths based on the 2006 rate of 100 deaths per day recorded in hospitals and morgues since March 2003. The Lancet Survey of Mortality, in December 2006, estimated 654,965 deaths. The Lancet survey is derived from both the number of direct deaths caused by the occupation and those due indirectly to increased lawlessness, degraded infrastructure, poor healthcare, etc. The reliability of the Lancet survey is widely criticized by the US and Iraqi governments, but supported by many epidemiologists and statisticians.
Other casualty numbers are more exact and less controversial. These numbers, gathered on January 15, 2007, were: 3,024 United States military deaths, 252 coalition troops, 92 journalists, who died mostly from kidnapping and murder (changing from all other past wars of combat related deaths), 647 contractors, ranging from special forces soldiers to drivers, cooks, mechanics, plumbers, translators, and other support personnel, and 78 aid workers.
All of these numbers underestimate the true consequences of war when we take into account the definition of a casualty: any person, group, thing, etc., that is harmed or destroyed as a result of some act or event. What many of us consider and understand to be a casualty of war is really a fatality: a disaster resulting in death. What happens to these numbers when we include our new understanding of casualty? Does the number include the entire world.s population?
In terms of Iraqi casualties we now need to take into account the number of Iraqi refugees. As of November 4, 2006, the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced to neighboring countries, and 1.6 million were displaced internally, with nearly 100,000 Iraqis fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month. Furthermore, few of these refugees express a desire to return to Iraq after the war. As a result, the populations of Syria and Jordan are feeling the burden of supporting all of these extra people.
In terms of American soldier casualties, these numbers are again closely monitored, adding up to 47,657 non-mortal casualties. In terms of Americans, we can include the families affected by direct relation deaths, and the extended absence of their loved ones as casualties. Also included is the effect that the 315 billion dollars spent on the war effort (September 30, 2006) has toward the depletion of the funding for our public schools and infrastructure, and the likelihood of achieving public health care.
What about the casualty of the time lost in school by Iraqi children? Or the loss a child in America feels when his father is serving his fourth tour in Iraq? And the casualty of a mosque destroyed by American bombs in Falluja? That of an independent business in America, closed due to the absence of it.s proprietor serving in Iraq?
When it comes down to counting numbers, we know regardless of which survey or method we follow to arrive at the final estimate, the numbers are significant and millions to billions of lives have been affected. To attempt a quantification of this more ambiguous . but nonetheless present . effect of the war would be impossible, and the ascending numbers of casualties of this war does little to capture wholly the disastrous aftermath that lies outside the realm of statistics and body-counts.