Monday, January 01, 2007

Body Count

Estimates abound for violent deaths in Iraq, contra the puling whinges from the "what about all the good news" claque. Take your pick as to which one is the most accurate.

As enraged crowds protested the hanging of Saddam Hussein across Iraq's Sunni heartland Monday, government officials reported that 16,273 Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police died violent deaths in 2006, a figure larger than an independent Associated Press count for the year by more than 2,500.

The tabulation by the Iraqi ministries of Health, Defense and Interior, showed that 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers were killed in the violence that raged in the country last year.

The Associated Press accounting, gleaned from daily news reports from Baghdad, arrived at a total of 13,738 deaths. The United Nations has said as many as 100 Iraqis die violently each day, which translates into 36,500 deaths annually.

Let's take the lowest (AP) estimate and extrapolate. The population of Iraq was estimated at 26,783,383 as of July of last year. U.S. population at the same point in time is estimated at 298,444,215, just over 11 times the size.

Can you even imagine 153,081 Americans, nearly 90% of them civilians, perishing in the space of a single year, in a variety of horrible methods from being shot on the street to being power-drilled in the neck to random suicide bombing in the market? Seriously, it's impossible to even comprehend, but it takes very little thinking about such an awful scenario to at least realize that any semblance of normal life would be completely gone under such circumstances. Add 50% unemployment and 4 hours a day of electricity to that mix, and you have a recipe for practically infinite violence.

And despite premature reports of a post-execution lull in street violence and protests, that has already changed for the worse.

In Samarra, a mob broke the locks off a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the dictator.

The demonstration in the Golden Dome, shattered in a bombing by Sunni extremists 10 months ago, suggests that many Sunni Arabs may now more actively support the small number of Sunni militants fighting the country's Shiite-dominated government. The Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiia, in the form of daily bombings, kidnappings and murders.

Monday's protest came on a day that saw the U.S. military kill six Iraqis during a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure, who was suspected of giving al-Qaida in Iraq fighters sanctuary.

Until Saddam's execution Saturday, most Sunnis sympathized with militants but avoided taking a direct role in the sectarian conflict — despite attacks by Shiite militia that have killed thousands of Sunnis or driven them from their homes. The current Sunni protests, which appear to be building, could signal a spreading militancy.

Sunnis were not only outraged by Saddam's hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence. Many were also incensed by the unruly scene in the execution chamber, captured on video, in which Saddam was taunted with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada."

The chants referred to Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric who runs one of Iraq's most violent religious militias. He is a major power behind the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Many Sunnis are also upset that Saddam was put to death the day that Sunni celebrations began for Eid al-Ahda, a major Muslim festival. The judge who first presided over the case that resulted in Saddam's death sentence said the former dictator's execution at the start of Eid was illegal according to Iraqi law, and contradicted Islamic custom.

The law states that "no verdict should implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," said Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd.


Mourners at a mosque in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice for their former leader. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial.

Saddam's eldest daughter briefly attended a protest Monday in Jordan — her first public appearance since her father was hanged.

"God bless you, and I thank you for honoring Saddam, the martyr," said Raghad Saddam Hussein, according to two witnesses. She addressed members of the Professional Associations — an umbrella group of unions representing doctors, engineers and lawyers — in the group's office parking lot in west Amman.

Ah, the M-word. In our haste to prop up Maliki's Green Zone government -- held in place largely by its degree of cooperation with al Sadr and his Mahdi Army death squads -- we took a deposed, pathetic tyrant who had already been rendered impotent, and allowed the vengeful Shi'a government to turn him back into a rallying point.

This has very real potential to compound what is already a largely irretrievable mistake on our part, one undertaken in bad faith, and in a toxic mix of arrogance and hubris. Undoubtedly more American troops will have been unnecessarily endangered by that action, but it is mostly the vast numbers of civilians, whose main crime at this point is that they have no way to get out, at the mercy of yet another gang of thugs.

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