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Civilian Deaths

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Sully is having a real hard time. He’s not an idiot, meaning that he can’t believe that the project in Iraq is going well. On the other hand, he’s arrogant and not terribly flexible, which means that he can’t admit he was wrong to support the war. Thus, we occasionally get bits like this, which Sully didn’t write, but posted and linked to:

It is estimated that Saddam killed between 500,000 and 1 million of his own people in the 13 years since the Gulf War, not including the effects of the sanctions. The lower number averages out to be 105 a day.
Assuming Saddam had stayed in power, as the anti-war movement would have had, and assuming his regime did not fundamentally change, Saddam could have killed between 53,445 and 106,890 innocent people in the same 509 days.
In other words, the war probably cost between 38,938 and 92,383 fewer lives than the so-called peace would have cost.

That’s all fine and good, unless you’re a sensible person who knows anything about Iraq. The million killed by Saddam, by just about every account, happened between 1991 and 1993 as Hussein re-asserted control over the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. This problem was solved by the institution of the no-flight zones, which cut the death rate dramatically, to the tune of about 2000-4000 per year.

Now, before anyone accuses me of apologizing for Saddam, it is a terrible thing to kill a million Kurds and Shiites in a couple of years, and it is also an awful thing to kill 2-4 thousand political opponents per year. It sure is great that he’s not doing that anymore. But any assessment of the invasion in this fashion has to be forward looking, examining the numbers that the regime likely would have killed in 2003 and 2004, rather than use averages to artificially inflate the numbers for rhetorical purpose.

As for the damage that the sanctions dealt to Iraq, I have no idea how to assess the numbers. I didn’t believe the most dramatic estimates that the left made in the 1990s, and I don’t believe them now that the right has taken over the project. I will say that it’s not a winning issue for the right; the sanctions took a toll, but the invasion has not put things right, especially with the limitation on transportation, electricity, and, most notably, the fact that the United States doesn’t even control broad swaths of Iraq, meaning that the goodness of free trade has no opportunity to trickle down.


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