Thursday, March 30, 2006

De-Bunking Bunkum

To commemorate the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Michael Graham offers a list of "facts" that we supposedly know for certain to bolster the case for our war in Iraq.

After running through the more dire predictions of the anti-war side, and then declaring that they all "got it wrong" (more on that later), he proceeds to remind us that he is not convinced that Saddam did not have WMDs at the time of the invasion (which he apparently kept but didn't use, because...?) Oh well, maybe some of Michael Ledeen's friends can help him to find them.

Then he engages in what is a little bit of posturing, indicating that while both sides are spinning the war, there are some facts that need to be considered in analyzing the war. He then takes a little dig at antiwar forces, pretending that facts don't matter to them by remembering Clinton and the definition of "is."

His next paragraph speaks volumes:

I offer them for your consideration. Ignore them or embrace them--either way, they will still be the facts.

This is always a very dangerous assetion to make about anything where our primary information on is deductive or secondhand 9that is, based on other's analyses). It's one thing to say "These are the facts. Disprove them or accept them," in which case you invite your opponent to prove you wrong. But the way he phrases it, he immediately indicates that he is unwilling to hear information contradicting his thesis. This is settled, without recourse.

So, really, how factual are his facts?

"Fact" (1) Invading Iraq and toppling Saddam has SAVED lives, not cost them.

He calculates this by using two assumptions that are likely to be fallacious:

First, he calculates the rate at which people would be killed under Saddam by taking the average over 20 years - 1,000 monthly if we assume 1 million people, perhaps as high as 4,000 if we accept some estimates. This assumes that the number of people killed duyring Saddam's last years would be the same as the average during his reign, which including, lest we forget, the Iran-Iraq War and the first Gulf War. It is quite likely that the death toll over the last few years of his reign, say, 2000-2003, would be somewhat lower than this average.

Granted, though, he does make a good point that if we believe some antiwar claims, as many as 5,000 Iraqi children died every month from the sanctions (that would come to about 720,000 children over twelve years). Again, though, there might be some question as to how these deaths were distributed over the last three years or so of Saddam's reign.

Second, he also makes the unfounded assumption that all Iraqi deaths are reported.

Today, according to the anti-war website, the maximum Iraqi death toll in these three years was under 40,000 Iraqis. Or the equivalent of eight months of "peaceful" UN sanctions.

No, that is the maximum number of REPORTED deaths. The infamous Lancet study found a 95% confidence level that the net number of lives lost from the invasion was between 8,000 and 194,000 [this is as of October 2004, almost a year and a half ago). That is, there was only a 2.5% chance that fewer than 8,000 extra people died as a result of the invasion. Again, note that this is the net number of deaths, not the gross. So however many lives were saved by the invasion, the same number were killed by the invasion, plus an additional 8,000 to 194,000 [and htis was as of October of 2004). I commented on this extensively here.

This also casts doubt on his earlier claims that U.N. predictions of 500,000 injured Iraqi civilians were wildly off the mark. As for his dismissal of German claims of "millions of [Iraqi] victims of U.S. rockets," while I think that the number is offf by an order of magnitude, it is not unlikely that there are a large number of Iraqis who have been killed or injured by American air raids.

And in any case, if we are discussing the effect of war versus the effect of sanctions, it must be pointed out that we are assuming the sanctions as a given. The possibility that we might have lifted the sanctions without forcing Saddam out of power, or, as Gene Callahan suggests, simply tried to bribe Saddam to hand Iraq over to someone more congenial to us, need also be taken into account. Even if the sanctions cost more lives than the war, the argument would simply be that we were killing fewer with one policy than with another policy we could have decided on to get rid of Saddam. That we could have chosen a third policy is not even considered.

"Fact" (2) The Iraqis are Taking Over, and Increasingly the Iraqi Forces are the Ones Suffering Deaths, not Coalition Troops.

It's possible, if we assume that the number of dead Iraqi police and military are actually higher than the numbers reported, and that they are not proportional to the numbers reported. But going strictly on the reported deaths, Iraqi polic and military have been suffering similar fatality rates since Novmeber, as I explained here. What are increasing are reported civilian deaths, [not counting the ultra-high death count from August 2005, which came mostly as the result of a single incident] not reported police and military fatalities. A cynic might suggest that the lower American and other coalition fatalities are not due to Iraqis taking over for them as much as they are due to us leaving Iraqi civilians in the lurch and at the mercy of the insurgents.

As for reports on how many new army units are being formed, I wonder how many of them are simply glossed-over Shiite and/or Kurdish militias that in their spare time terrorize Sunni Arab civilian populations in retaliation, as mentioned by Seymour Hersh.

An American Army officer who took part in the assault on Tal Afar, in the north of Iraq, earlier this fall, said that an American infantry brigade was placed in the position of providing a cordon of security around the besieged city for Iraqi forces, most of them Shiites, who were “rounding up any Sunnis on the basis of whatever a Shiite said to them.” The officer went on, “They were killing Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites,” with the active participation of a militia unit led by a retired American Special Forces soldier.

I'll try to find more articles dealing with the makeup of the current Iraqi forces, but that would take too much time right now and really I could do a whole post on that, so I think I will. Suffice it to say that it is not yet clear that Iraqi security forces are fighting for a stable, secure, free Iraq, rather than for their own agendas.

It should also be pointed out that, as Michael Schwartz points out, the Iraqi forces are largely designed to be under our command, not as independent units fighting for Iraq, making them part of the occupation rather than of a liberation.

"Fact" (3) The vast majority of American soldiers and Marines who go to Iraq come home safely.

Here Mr. Graham plays a little bait-and-switch, talking about our relatively low number of U.S. fatalities, and then mentions that "that total number of casualties over three years (2320 when he wrote the article) equals just one month of the Vietnam War..."

Mr. Graham pulls a little bait-and-switch by conflating casualties with fatalities. In reality, in addition to the 2323 Americans that have been killed (1865 in combat) there are at least 17004 combat-related injuries, and could be as many as 30,000 more injuries, presumably mostly or completely from non-hostile incidents.

But in any case, how relevant is the fact that "the vast majority of soldiers aren't injured?" The number of casualties is nearly 20,000 at a minimum, which still represents a large number of soldiers killed. In most if not all of the wars we have been in, most of our soldiers survived, so that is a weak point.

I'll agree that we have had fairly low fatalities in Iraq so far, though; I will give him that. But I'm not certain whether that will continue and I doubt that it is enough to justify this war in terms of its financial cost to us, its cost in terms of other countries' respect, or in terms of the human toll on the Iraqis.

"Fact" (4) Saddam had Al Qaueda connections.

Other than the sudden trust this guy has in the Clinton administration's honesty ("It was the Clintonistas who feared Osama would 'boogie to Baghdad' in 1999, not the Bushies") one has to be skeptical of his assertions of the "mountains of circumstantial evidence." Moreover, his statement that "Now we have obtained Iraqi intelligence service documents that clearly state 'OBL and The Taliban are in contact with Iraq'" is hardly proof of any operational relationship. As for the claim of additional documents showing that Saddam funded Al Qaeda in the Philippies, I will say that if true, it is troubling.

But let's remember that many of the much-vaunted Al Qaeda connections have wound up being nothing more than meetings that never went anywhere. I remember reading somewhere that the evidence suggests that Saddam was more interested in finding ways to achieve a peace with Al Qaeda so that it wouldn't attack him rather than trying establish a relationship (remember, Osama bin Laden offered to help us to overthrow him in the 1990-1991 Gulf War). This is also why he started making all of those gestures from the mid-1990s on to show that he really was a strong believer in Islam. (If anyone knows what the site is that I am talking about, could you please comment on this post or email me at glaivester -at- yahoo dot com?)

And it also appears that these new documents may not be entirely reliable. They had no official stamps or markers, for one thing.

"Fact" (5) There is no civil war because only 25,000 Iraqis are fighting each other. That's not civil war, that's just murder and terrorism.

This requires (a) that we assume that the 25,000 figure is accurate (b) that we assume that the 25,000 does not include various peshmerga and Shiite militia forces who are fighting the war on the other side [i.e. than the Sunnis], and (c) that a relatively small number of soldiers is contrary to the definition of war.

I don't really think that we know how many people are actively involved in this conflict. We were told back in 2004 that there were only 5000 insurgents, but estimates of the lower bound are now around 20,000. Unless you believe that the vast majority are foreigners who have just come into Iraq (which is prety clearly not the case), then it is almost certain that there is a much larger supply of either inactive insurgents or pre-insurgents, ready to come out and fight when they feel that the time is right. Moreover, there is a good chance that many of those who are not are at least passively involved in it, as Gary Brecher mentioned in relation to the earlier conflict between the Iraqi insurgents and the U.S.:

Arabs are people persons, nosey as Hell. The only thing they like better than cheap cologne is spying on everybody in the neighborhood. So you have to face the fact that everybody in these towns where roadside bombs are hitting our patrols not only knows who planted the bomb but helped them do it.

Seymour Hersh has a pessimistic perspective on whether the Iraqi armed forces and police are really fighting for a unified Iraq, or whether they are just another self-interested side in the civil war:

An American Army officer who took part in the assault on Tal Afar, in the north of Iraq, earlier this fall, said that an American infantry brigade was placed in the position of providing a cordon of security around the besieged city for Iraqi forces, most of them Shiites, who were “rounding up any Sunnis on the basis of whatever a Shiite said to them.” The officer went on, “They were killing Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites,” with the active participation of a militia unit led by a retired American Special Forces soldier.

And the evidence seems to be that the security forces are predominantly Kurdish and Shiite, suggesting that their loyalties, should civil war come, would wind up being to their peoples rather than to preserving the country as a multiethnic state.

And a recent report (thanx and a tip o' the hat to Jim Henley) by Riverbend that it is being broadcast on TV not to comply with the orders of Iraqi securit forces and police during nightly patrols suggests that these institutions may be involved in something less honorable than securing the country.

I'll try to get more evidence of Shiite and/or Kurdish participation in the civil war via the police and military, but later.

As for the belief that 25,000 is not enough enemies to consider the fight a civil war, I ask "What about the war on terrorism?" I mean, 19 men killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, and we were supposed to accept that as the beginning of a war. Surely, when more than 3000 police and military and almost 8000 civilians are known to be killed in one year, that should count at least as much, particularly in a country one-tenth our size.

If there were 250,000 insurgents in the U.S. looking to overthrow our government, and they managed to kill at least 1,580 soldiers and police and at least 3000 civilians a month, would we deny that that is a civil war? Yet since April of 2005, that is proportionately to is population, what Iraq is facing.

In short, Michael Graham is full of it. He's another pro-war shill distorting the facts to prettify the Iraq fiasco.

That is all.

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