by Gary Farber
The amount of data is staggering. Key stories abound.
Let us start with death.
America caused this. It's a map of every Iraqi war-related death documented by the Coalition.
Hooray for freedom.
• The database records 109,032 deaths in total for the period
• The database records the following death counts: 66,081 civilians, 23,984 insurgents and 15,196 Iraqi security forces
• The worst place for deaths was Baghdad - 45,497, followed by MND north (which is the region that goes from Baghdad up to Kurdistan) where another 34,210 died. The quietest place was the north east with only 328 deaths
Murders and escalation of force
• 34,814 people were recorded as murdered in 24,840 incidents
• The worst month was December 2006 with 2,566 murders - and 2006 was the worst year with 16,870 murders
• The database records 12,578 escalation of force incidents (where someone is shot driving too fast at a checkpoint, for instance) - and these resulted in 778 recorded deaths
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)
• There were 65,439 IED explosions over the period - with 31,780 deaths recorded on the database from those alone.
• There were another 44,620 IEDs found and cleared
• The worst month for IED explosions was May 2007 with 2,080 IED explosions
TOTAL WOUNDED, all categories
But, of course, this data is still minimal, new as much of it is.
[...] Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: "These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public."
The data cannot be relied upon as a complete record of Iraqi deaths. IBC, for example, had previously calculated that up to 91,469 civilians were killed from various causes during the period covered by the leaked database. While detailing the 15,000 previously unknown deaths, it also omits many otherwise well-attested civilian fatalities caused by US troops themselves. Nor does the Pentagon data cover any of the initial invasion fighting throughout 2003; IBC has identified 12,080 purely civilian deaths in that year.
The US figure is far lower than another widely quoted estimate of more than 650,000 "excess deaths" extrapolated on a different basis and published in a 2006 study in the Lancet.
A key example of the failure by US forces to record civilian casualties they have inflicted comes in the two major urban battles against insurgents fought in 2004 in Falluja. Numerous buildings were reduced to rubble by air strikes, tank shells and howitzers, and there were well-attested deaths of hundreds of civilians. IBC has identified between 1,226 and 1,362 such deaths during April and November. But the leaked US internal field reports record no civilian casualties at all.
One of the most publicised allegations was that a clinic in central Falluja was shelled on 9 November. Doctors claimed to international media that two strikes on the roof had killed scores of patients and staff. The IBC puts the total number of civilian deaths at 59.
The US military maintained these claims were "unsubstantiated", and the leaked database does not record any civilian deaths in the logs of these incidents.
But the logs do reveal corroborating evidence, furnished at the time by US troops involved in the fighting, that the clinic was a target for shelling. [....]
Heavy fighting is then detailed. And:
[...] At other times the troops record Iraqi deaths but invariably classify all the corpses as "enemy". When a helicopter gunship killed two Reuters journalists with a group of other men in a Baghdad street, in one notorious 2007 incident, all were listed as "enemy killed in action".
The New York Times similarly reports:
[...] But it was systematic sectarian cleansing that drove the killing to its most frenzied point, making December 2006 the worst month of the war, according to the reports, with about 3,800 civilians killed, roughly equal to the past seven years of murders in New York City. A total of about 1,300 police officers, insurgents and coalition soldiers were also killed in that month.
The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.
The archive contains reports on at least four cases of lethal shootings from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of them civilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice. Read the Document »
In another case, in February 2007, an Apache helicopter shot and killed two Iraqi men believed to have been firing mortars, even though they made surrendering motions, because, according to a military lawyer cited in the report, “they cannot surrender to aircraft, and are still valid targets.” Read the Document »
The shooting was unusual. In at least three other instances reported in the archive, Iraqis surrendered to helicopter crews without being shot. The Pentagon did not respond to questions from The Times about the rules of engagement for the helicopter strike.
The pace of civilian deaths served as a kind of pulse, whose steady beat told of the success, or failure, of America’s war effort. Americans on both sides of the war debate argued bitterly over facts that grew hazier as the war deepened.
The archive does not put that argument to rest by giving a precise count. As a 2008 report to Congress on the topic makes clear, the figures serve as “guideposts,’ not hard totals. But it does seem to suggest numbers that are roughly in line with those compiled by several sources, including Iraq Body Count, an organization that tracked civilian deaths using press reports, a method the Bush administration repeatedly derided as unreliable and producing inflated numbers. In all, the five-year archive lists more than 100,000 dead from 2004 to 2009, though some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures. A 2008 Congressional report warned that record keeping in the war had been so problematic that such statistics should be looked at only as “guideposts.”
In a statement on Friday, Iraq Body Count, which did a preliminary analysis of the archive, estimated that it listed 15,000 deaths that had not been previously disclosed anywhere.
The archive tells thousands of individual stories of loss whose consequences are still being felt in Iraqi families today.
According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter. Read the Document »
The archive’s data is incomplete. The documents were compiled with an emphasis on speed rather than accuracy; the goal was to spread information as quickly as possible among units. American soldiers did not respond to every incident.
And even when Americans were at the center of the action, as in the western city of Falluja in 2004, none of the Iraqis they killed were categorized as civilians. In the early years of the war, the Pentagon maintained that it did not track Iraqi civilian deaths, but it began releasing rough counts in 2005, after members of Congress demanded a more detailed accounting on the state of the war. In one instance in 2008, the Pentagon used reports similar to the newly released documents to tabulate the war dead.
This month, The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon in July had quietly posted its fullest tally of the death toll of Iraqi civilians and security forces ever, numbers that were first requested in 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act. It was not clear why the total — 76,939 Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces killed between January 2004 and August 2008 — was significantly less than the sum of the archive’s death count.
And remember Haditha?
[...] The reports were only as good as the soldiers calling them in. One of the most infamous episodes of killings by American soldiers, the shootings of at least 15 Iraqi civilians, including women and children in the western city of Haditha, is misrepresented in the archives. The report stated that the civilians were killed by militants in a bomb attack, the same false version of the episode that was given to the news media. [....]
All these deserve long posts of their own.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks is allegedly under net attack.
[...] The call, by the UN's chief investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, came as Phil Shiner, human rights specialist at Public Interest Lawyers in the UK, warned that some of the deaths documented in the Iraq war logs could have involved British forces and would be pursued through the UK courts. He demanded a public inquiry into allegations that British troops were responsible for civilian deaths during the conflict.
The Guardian has analysed the 400,000 documents, the biggest leak in US military history, and found 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths. The logs show how US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and generally unpunished.
Nowak said that if the files released through WikiLeaks pointed to clear violations of the UN Convention Against Torture the Obama administration had an obligation to investigate them.
The logs paint a disturbing picture of the relationship between US and Iraqi forces. Nowak said that UN human rights agreements obliged states to criminalise every form of torture, whether directly or indirectly, and to investigate any allegations of abuse.
Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, Nowak, who has spent years investigating allegations of US participation in extraordinary rendition and the abuse of detainees held by coalition forces, said the Obama administration had a legal and moral obligation to fully investigate credible claims of US forces' complicity in torture.
As recently as December, the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: "The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him."
The report named at least one perpetrator and was passed to coalition forces. But the logs reveal that the coalition has a formal policy of ignoring such allegations. They record "no investigation is necessary" and simply pass reports to the same Iraqi units implicated in the violence. By contrast all allegations involving coalition forces are subject to formal inquiries. Some cases of alleged abuse by UK and US troops are detailed in the logs.
We owe every Iraqi's family an investigation into every death. It isn't possible, and it won't happen, but it's what we owe, along with so much more, for our invasion and occupation of their country.
Next, everyone focuses on the deaths, few on the mere casualties of having limbs blown off, traumatic brain injuries, being blinded, and the like. We owe as much to all these people.
Finally, the United Nations High Commission On Refugees still reports that:
[...] More IDPs [internally displaced persons -- gf] and refugees are returning to their areas of origin in Iraq, although large-scale returns have not taken place. Some 300,000 IDPs and nearly 80,000 refugees returned spontaneously in 2008 and 2009. At the same time, the majority of some 1.5 million IDPs have not found solutions to their plight. There are also occasional reports of new displacements. Within Iraq there are some 40,000 refugees, including some 16,000 of Turkish origin. Most of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Iraq are found in Baghdad, while around 1,400 live in the Al Waleed camp close to the border with the Syrian Arab Republic.
What about the external refugees, those who fled Iraq?
[...] A UNHCR poll of Iraqis who have returned to Baghdad from neighbouring countries found that physical insecurity, economic hardship and a lack of basic public services has led the majority to regret their decision to return to Iraq.
UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, presenting the survey findings to journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, said it also found that 34 per cent of returnees were uncertain whether they would stay permanently in Iraq and would consider seeking asylum in neighbouring countries once again if conditions do not improve.
The survey of 2,353 Iraqis, or 537 families, who returned to the Baghdad districts of Resafa and Karkh between 2007 and 2008, was conducted by UNHCR staff from April to September this year in person and by phone.
The survey found that 61 per cent of those interviewed regretted returning to Iraq from their country of asylum, with 60 per cent of this number stating that this was mainly due to insecurity and personal safety concerns.
Almost 80 per cent of those that returned to Karkh and Resafa said they did not go to their original place of residence, either due to the general insecurity or because they still feared direct persecution. A total 11 per cent cited poor economic conditions and unemployment as reasons for not returning to their former homes and neighbourhoods.
Most Iraqi returnees who did not return to their original homes live with relatives, and in some cases stay with friends or have rented other accommodation. The majority, 87 per cent, said their current income was insufficient to cover their families' needs in Iraq.
One of the principal challenges for Iraqi returnees is finding regular employment. Inadequate access to public services, including health care, combined with infrequent electricity supply in many parts of the country, add to the hardship facing returnees.
A similar survey on the Syrian and Jordanian borders was released last week by UNHCR. It indicated that the majority of Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan were not considering returning permanently to Iraq in the near future due to continuing political uncertainty and security instability.
"UNHCR does not envisage widescale returns to Iraq in the short term," Fleming said, adding: "While UNHCR does not promote returns to Iraq, it continues to assist refugees who voluntarily express their wish to return, in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities."
This assistance covers 100 per cent of transportation as well as a small cash grant. More than 2,960 Iraqis voluntarily returned to Iraq from neighbouring states with UNHCR help during 2007 and the first 10 months of 2008.
According to Iraqi government statistics, 18,240 Iraqi refugees returned from countries of asylum in the first eight months of this year, while 89,700 people displaced inside Iraq returned home in the same period. [....]
Yeah, we owe them, too. Meanwhile, Iraqi refugees in Syria constitute one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world.
[...] "Of 498 families, representing more than 2,000 individuals, 46 per cent cited political uncertainty, while 15 per cent blamed unstable security conditions. A further 13 per cent said they are holding back because of poor educational opportunities, and six percent cited housing shortages," Melissa Fleming, UNHCR's chief spokesperson, told journalists in Geneva.
"Most people crossing the border – 89 per cent – said it was for a short trip only. In 42 per cent of cases this was for visiting family members, 18 per cent said they were checking conditions on the ground, 15 per cent to obtain documentation and 10 per cent to check on property," she added.
A similar survey on the Iraq-Jordan border among 364 families (about 1,450 people) found that none were returning to Iraq permanently. Similar reasons were cited.
Syria hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees in the region. Since the start of the war in Iraq, UNHCR has registered more than 290,000 Iraqis. [....]
The Dalai Lama, my good Facebook buddy, posted today:
Theoretically, one could imagine a situation where armed intervention at an early stage might prevent large-scale conflict. The problem is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to predict the outcome of violence. That it will be just is not guaranteed at the outset – it will only become clear in hindsight. The only certainty is that where there is violence, there is always and inevitably suffering.
This guy may be on to something.
[...] A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
This key order has been noted in some of the other stories I've linked, as it should be. It appears to be the key order allowing U. S. military to look the other way when officers chose to.
UPDATE, 9:41 p.m.: ABC reports:
[...] Al Jazeera, which also got an advance look at the documents, reported a total of 285,000 war casualties on its Arabic-language website, a number that included both dead and wounded. It also reported that the documents said 681 Iraqi civilians were killed at U.S. checkpoints, 180,000 Iraqis were arrested during the war and 15,000 Iraqis were buried without being identified.