… Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands, and Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? I Samuel 18:7-8

Saddam was no King Saul and most certainly George Bush is no David (although perhaps the Democrats wish he would cast his eyes clintonesque on an intern named Bathsheba). But the sentiment of the ancient Israelite king renowned for slaughtering the Philistines (who incidentallty lived in what we now call Gaza) may be reverberating in the scandal-defying offices of Karl Rove. Earlier this year President Bush estimated the Iraqi dead after our invasion in the 30,000s. The site Iraq Body Count has yet to hit 49,000 for its maximum, as of today. So imagine the wrothness of Bush and Blair defenders when a respected medical journal, The Lancet, releases a study that puts the number of Iraqi casualties as close to 655,000 or 2.5% of the population in the study area. And this does not include deaths since last July.

The debate over the numbers of Iraqi war dead is a classic case of ulterior-motivated propaganda. The lower the numbers of civilian deaths, the easier it is to claim that the invasion was the right thing to do and the conflict is not [yet] a civil war. The logic (or what passes for it) goes: with a total Iraqi population estimated somewhere near 25 million, what do lives measured in a few tens of thousands really matter? After all, insist the habituated deniers, more people die from automobile accidents annually in the United States than annually from gunshot wounds and shrapnel in liberated Iraq. But a figure of hundreds of thousands was unimaginable even for King Saul in the glory gory days. If indeed this is an accurate number, the toll comes close to being 200,000 dead Iraqis each of the past three years. Keep this up and welcome to Uganda and Rwanda estimates for future historians to debate.

Thus far the response to the report has been politically predictable. But the real issue is not so much the size as much as the cover up. This was not Noam Chomsky speculating at a sit-in rally. The methodology for the study is rigorous and one that in other contexts would be accepted with minimal disagreement. The type of national cross-sectional cluster survey is precisely what pollsters (who have replaced astrologers for modern kingmakers) salivate over. Let’s say the same method suggested that Republicans will not be blamed for the Foley scandal and you would find the Bush administration in statistical bliss.

The debate over the numbers is fueled not by expert opinion but by the same paranoia that troubled Saul. And with good reason. No longer being in favor with a very demanding God, Saul was about to be replaced by this young upstart son of Jesse. Songs about numbers might as well have been writing on the wall. The Bush administration and the Blair tag-alongs know this full well. If during American occupation the security has been so bad that 600,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, then in three years the numbers have passed the estimates given for Iraq’s losses during Saddam’s bloody war with Iran in the early 1980s. And there is no evidence that Saddam’s brutal regime killed that many internal enemies over more than two decades of military and security dominance. Accept this number and the Iraq War can no more be touted as a success by any measure.

The online version of the report is available and can be read for free just by registering (which is free) at the site. Before you get whelmed by a propaganda war denying the numbers, take a look for yourself.

Daniel Martin Varisco