Dead bodies don't count: civilian casualties and the forgotten costs of the Iraq conflict
Date of this Version
The people of Iraq —men, women and children—have experienced considerable pain and suffering over the past few decades. In addition to having endured well over twenty years of brutal dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, they have also borne the brunt of a prolonged and bitter war against Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, several years of UN-imposed sanctions, repeated bombings by US and British forces during the 1990s, and the US-led invasion in 2003 followed by a bloody and protracted period of occupation. Perhaps the most tragic phase of Iraq ’s recent history is this period of occupation because it has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, more often than not at the hands of their own people. A virtual state of civil war has led to unprecedented acts of random killings and tit-for-tat murders in a country torn apart by ethnic and religious rivalry and bloody resistance to military occupation.
What started out in March 2003 as a war of ‘liberation and freedom’ has ended in years of bloodletting, with the prospects for peace and stability becoming increasingly remote. For the people of Iraq , the war and subsequent occupation have resulted in extensive death and injury as well as significant damage and destruction to the environment, economy and society. There is of course nothing new about this—wars and conflicts have always resulted in significant harm to innocent people.
Our primary concern in this book is with the bodily harm as well as the many other personal, social, economic, political and environmental costs of the conflict from March 2003 to late 2006. Additionally, we discuss how the question of civilian casualties has, or has not, been addressed by the instigators of the war, namely the US -led ‘coalition of the willing’. This is a political story about how the world’s leading superpower, along with its acolytes, sought to prosecute a war which many legal experts regarded as both illegal and unjust, and how it proceeded to ignore or play down the issue of civilian casualties. In shrouding this issue in silence the leaders of the coalition were intent, consciously or otherwise, on presenting their role as the benign guardians of Iraqi interests. Yet as is now clear, this sanguine picture has been repeatedly shattered as events have unfolded since March 2003. This apparent tension between image and reality, representation and actuality, is in part a function of war since the victors are almost always able to present a certain sanitised, self-serving view of events.