by Eric Martin
The death toll from yesterday's bombing of a Shiite marketplace keeps rising. At present, it stands at a grisly 63. This attack highlights the fact that even under "improved" security conditions - with levels of violence greatly reduced in many parts of the country - Iraq is far from peaceful.
From a distance, the true levels of devastation are hard to appreciate in any deeper sense. Further, the relentless drumbeat of bombings and other incidents leads to a certain level of numbness. It's impossible to pause and take notice of each. As a result of this continued conflict, the numbers of dead and wounded have reached those hard to comprehend levels where the tragedy of lives lost is blurred by the sterility of statistics. The fact that our media has deliberately chosen to keep images of the carnage from our screens and pages also contributes to the impersonal nature of the math.
One thing that I find myself doing almost reflexively when I read about a bombing such as yesterday's (perhaps to counteract this tendency), is to try to imagine what such a body count would equal in American terms (something Juan Cole did some time back IIRC). That is, given that Iraq is a much smaller country population wise, what would the corollary be in a country America's size (this is relevant when trying to measure the impact on a society as a whole from such acts). The conversion rate is actually quite easy due to a certain symmetry in Iraq's pre-war population (roughly 30 million) and America's (roughly 300 million) - about ten times the size.
Thus, in order to begin to empathize with Baghdadis, imagine what a bombing that took 630 Americans would feel like. Imagine the outpouring of emotion that would ensue, the sadness, the outrage. And that's from just one day out of thousands in a war that has seen few, if any, pass without comparable tragedy.
Even under the more conservative civilian death counts, the numbers are currently at or nearing 100,000. That would be like 1 million American civilians. One Million! Consider that on 9/11 we lost roughly 2,900 and that was, for many, a cataclysmic, paradigm shifting event (myself included, resident of lower Manhattan and all).
But it's not just dead and wounded. Iraqi society has been traumatized in other ways as well. A friend whose current occupation forces him to maintain anonymity passes along this observation via email:
[N]ow that Iraq is now up to 4 million refugees (2M internal, 2M external), I decided to waste some time by figuring out comparable stats, proportionally, to the US. Assuming an initial 30M population, and a current US pop of 300M, obviously that's like if we had 40 million refugees. To make it a little more specific, though: that's equivalent to the entire population of 23 states. Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Arkansas, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, and Okalhoma combined is right around 40M.
Or, if you prefer, imagine that suddenly the entire state of Texas moved to Mexico and all of New York set up tent cities in the Midwest. Or if all of Michigan and Ohio evaporated into Canada while Florida's population spread itself through the rest of the south. I really don't think people have a good handle on just how profound the humanitarian crisis continues to be despite all the "improvement."
Yeah. Imagine America had to re-settle those 40 million refugees - an enormously difficult undertaking uder the best of circumstance. Now try pulling that off in an country still plagued by widespread conflict, lack of security and rampant lawlessness whose government lacks broad support and has shown little, if any commitment, to implementing the program.
Would you blame those that were still a bit skeptical of claims that we are "very close to succeeding"?