Still Counting

How Many Iraqis Have Died?

The October online posting by WikiLeaks of nearly a thousand classified Pentagon documents (the “Iraq War Logs”) shed new light on the vexed issue of Iraqi deaths during and after the 2003 invasion. According to articles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, the Bush administration, despite its claims to the contrary, did in fact keep a running count of Iraqi fatalities, entering 66,081 civilian deaths into the Iraq War Logs between January 2004 and December 2009 (out of a total of 109,032 recorded violent Iraqi deaths).

Yet the war logs yield no clear evidence that the U.S. government made any systematic effort to record all Iraqi deaths. Reports of Iraqi fatalities seem to have entered almost inadvertently into the Pentagon’s files as part of the daily bureaucratic grind of the occupation. General Tommy Franks’s now infamous declaration, “We don’t do body counts,” remains true, by every indication, as far as U.S. war policy is concerned.

This means that those 66,081 civilian deaths entered into the war logs likely represent a great undercounting of actual deaths. There are several reasons why. First of all, a large number of killings would have occurred in the nine months of the invasion prior to January 2004, when the war logs paper trail begins. Many deaths, moreover, would have occurred in sectarian violence in remote or uncontrolled parts of the country beyond the view of...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Ronald E. Osborn is an adjunct professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Anarchy and Apocalypse: Essays on Faith, Violence and Theodicy (Cascade Books), and Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (IVP Academic).