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November 29, 2004

Iraq and Damned Statistics

by Juan Cole

The Red Crescent has finally been allowed into Fallujah (its earlier exclusion was probably a violation of international law). Its spokesman is saying that less than 200 civilian families appear to still be there. If this estimate is true, it suggests that by the time of the U.S. assault, only about 5,000 persons were left in the city. At least 2,000 were killed, some 1,400 captured, some escaped, and a handful of civilian families remained. If Fallujah was a ghost town before the assault, that would help explain the repeated U.S. military assertion of virtually no civilian casualties (which is still not entirely plausible). But it would also raise a question as to the effectiveness of the assault. Fallujah's population was estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000. If only 5,000 or so were left, then obviously a great many guerrilla fighters, whether full- or part-time, escaped. The few remaining civilian families suffered from lack of food, contrary to earlier assertions of U.S. military spokespersons.

Al-Hayat plays anti-al-Jazeera on Saturday, running an article about how the Fallujans are furious at the "mujahedin" who fought the Americans using their city as a base. One interviewee among the survivors said that if a holy warrior proffered his hand, he'd rip it to pieces with his teeth. The Fallujans complain that the radical Muslim fundamentalists established themselves in the poorest city quarters, paying exorbitant rents, even though residents pleaded with them to fight the Americans outside the city. One said that anyone who made such arguments was tagged by the militants as an American sympathizer and received death threats.

Do I detect sarcasm toward the U.S. military in the column of Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough? They ridicule Centcom for claiming that the Fallujah operation had broken the back of the guerrilla effort and for suggesting that Fallujah was the greatest battle since the fall of Baghdad. They have also drawn up "talking points" for those wishing to defend the operation, which underline how many explosives were in Fallujah; charge that every one of the city's 77 mosques had been used as a weapons storage facility or fortress for attack; and added, "In one sector alone, a Marine unit found 91 caches and 432 IEDs. As a comparison, in October in all of Iraq, the coalition found 130 arms caches and 348 IEDs."

Since there are an estimated 250,000 tons of explosives and munitions missing from the prewar Ba'ath stockpiles, I fear that whatever was found in Fallujah was a drop in the bucket. And a lot of Iraqi cities must be full of such material. And, contrary to the "broken back" imagery, a confidential Marine report suggested that the guerrilla war would grow in intensity and breadth in the buildup to the Jan. 30 elections.

Alas, even Fallujah itself is still a problem. Guerrillas staged a shootout on Friday that killed two Marines (three guerrillas died as well).

Not only were many Iraqis disturbed at the way the Fallujah campaign was conducted, but they were upset about the assault by Iraqi National Guardsmen and U.S. troops on the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad last Friday. Mosque preachers, both Sunni and Shi'ite, universally condemned the raid yesterday in the Friday sermons. Al-Zaman says that Sheikh Adnan Dulaimi, the head of the Sunni Pious Endowments Board, called on the United Nations, the Arab League, and other international organizations to intervene to ensure that no further such attacks on mosques are conducted by the Allawi government or the American and coalition forces. Iraqi Muslims were especially appalled that the attack took place during Friday prayers and resulted in the deaths of two worshippers. The U.S. maintains that the mosque was a center for the guerrilla war.

"The Daily Outrage," at The Nation's Web site, lists some statistics that were not in the New York Times op-ed piece on Friday. For instance, 90 of 540 voter registration stations in Iraq are closed owing to poor security. And here is the coup de grace:

"Iraqi Public Opinion
** Only 33 percent of Iraqis think they're better off now than before the war, as a Gallup poll discovered.
** Just 36 percent believe the interim government shares their values.
** 94 percent say Baghdad is more dangerous than it was before the war.
** 66.6 believe the U.S. occupation could start a civil war.
** 80 percent want the U.S. to leave directly after the January elections."

The London Times reports that nearly 700 persons die under suspicious circumstances (most of them from bullet wounds) every month in Baghdad. These are not, at least mainly, victims of the guerrilla war. They are mostly victims of crime or revenge. I figure that as 8,400 murders a year in a city of 5 million, or 168 per 100,000 per annum. The highest murder rate in the U.S. for 2003 was 45.8 per 100,000, in Washington, D.C., with Detroit coming in second. That is, Baghdad is nearly four times as dangerous as the most dangerous American cities, more than a year and a half after the fall of Saddam. The U.S. has by its stupid mistakes deprived Baghdad's residents of the basic right to personal security. It is true that Saddam's secret police used to dump bodies at the morgue, of course. But all the polls show that Baghdadis feel themselves substantially worse off in personal security now, and no wonder.

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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.


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