Emeritus Stuart Rees AM,
information is a strategy of war, even in democracies. This is one of several
timely conclusions from Richard Hil and Paul Wilson’s powerful study of the
human costs of the
The study also illustrates the
formidable obstacles to achieving peace in
This book provides other invaluable
insights for politicians and policy makers, for those members of the public who
may still support wars and for the militarists who trade in weapons and who may
continue to think that killing is a noble art. The lessons are contemporary yet
time worn: silence about casualties must eventually be broken; violence begets
violence; the human costs of this war are incalculable and will last for
generations. For the devastated people of
help, advice, encouragement and support of many, this project may never have
reached fruition. We are particularly indebted to the following for their
knowledge, insights and support: Alex Kouzmin, Humphrey McQueen, Baden Offord,
Liz Porter, Rosemary Webb, Rob Simpson, Anna Bloemhard and especially Robyn
Lincoln for her encouragement and editorial input. We also express our deep
gratitude to Jo Jones who put considerable energy into getting this book to its
Our thanks also go to members of the Australian Kurdish Association, the Australian Arabic Community Council and the Community Relations Council for a Multicultural NSW, and Waratah Rose Gillespie whose courageous work we have referred to in this book. A special debt of gratitude goes to Firas Naji who was generous with his time and thoughts. His insights have proved invaluable.
We also wish to thank students at
Southern Cross University and
We further wish to thank Ann Simpson
whose energy, generosity and indefatigable activism are well known to many
As with any text, the final responsibility for errors, intellectual myopia and occasional idiocy rests with the authors.
The terror and ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by governments on civilians leave them just as injured or dead as a terrorist attack would.[i]
Silence plays a key role in the exercise of power. It creates spaces that are occupied by those who seek to assert their views of the world and establish their place in it. Some people therefore possess voices that are powerful and noisy, while others are rendered voiceless, bereft of an opportunity to speak out about their experiences, and seemingly unable to assert their grievances. They become what John Pilger recently referred to as ‘unpeople’—a shadowy population whose identities are stripped away and, in effect, consigned to the distant footnotes of history.[ii] This book is about a group of unpeople who have suffered extreme harm and yet received precious little attention from the Western media and virtually none from military or political elites.
The people of
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
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
In attempting to break the official
silence over civilian casualties, we are contributing to a view of events that
is somewhat at odds with many of the official claims and justifications made by
politicians and military leaders. Our aim is to develop a reading of events
relating to the second Gulf War that focuses on the lived experiences of
ordinary Iraqi people. In so doing we are adding to the growing and important
body of literature—much of it written by journalists on the ground in
Dead Bodies Don’t Count
comprises five chapters, beginning with The Culture of Official Silence that examines the way in which
the governments of the ‘coalition of the willing’ have consistently refused
to undertake a count of the Iraqi dead and injured. This is followed by a
discussion of the term ‘civilian casualties’ and what this means when we
take into account the full consequences of war on civilian populations. In
Chapter 2, Counting the Casualties,
we discuss the specific context of
We argue that the resounding silence over Iraqi victims is in fact symptomatic of various exclusionary processes that underscore relationships between the powerful and the subjugated, and that this relationship is characterised by narratives that emphasise one account over others, and which ultimately seek to legitimate the actions of the victor. However, in the case of Iraq the attempt by the powerful to sanitise the war, to render it ‘clean’ and ‘swift’, have gradually crumbled in the face of evidence of widespread atrocities. Such accounts have brought into sharp relief the gulf between official claims and the lived realities of the Iraqi people. In acknowledging the pain and suffering of ordinary Iraqis we insist on the necessity of taking seriously the consequences of war and recognising fully the rights of non-combatants under provisions contained in the Geneva Convention and Hague protocols.
If this book achieves anything, it is to draw greater attention to the central role that international law, conventions and protocols should play in determining relations between countries, especially during times of tension. These legislative measures have been put into place to ensure the protection of various legal and civil rights of innocent people and that capricious decision-making on the part of the victors is kept to a minimum. In challenging the official silence about death and injury, harm and destruction, we wish to highlight the consequences of war including the deaths and injuries suffered by coalition troops since the time of the invasion.
“…for the men, women and children blown
to pieces in Iraq, the solidarity we extended naturally to the London victims,
was denied; we were not allowed to know them. Why? Certainly, they were not
‘us’, but they were ‘our’ victims – that is, they had died at the
hands of forces in collusion with our government and in our
silence surrounding the question of Iraqi civilian casualties became
progressively more difficult to sustain following the start of the invasion in
March 2003. More than two and half years later, US President George W Bush, in
response to a question from a delegate of the World Affairs Council about the
extent of Iraqi civilian casualties said, ‘I would say 30,000 more or less
have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against
Iraqis’, but stressed, ‘we’ve lost about 2,140 of our own troops in
This was the first time since the beginning of hostilities that the
And there have been no shortage of
inquiries as journalists and representatives of various non-government
organisations have sought official responses about Iraqi civil casualties. One
of the most startling admissions to come from the Ministry of Defence in the
Any loss of life, particularly civilian, is deeply regrettable, but in a military operation the size of [this one] it is also unavoidable. Through very strict rules of engagement, the use of precision munitions, and the tactical methods employed to liberate Iraq’s major cities we are satisfied that the coalition did everything possible to avoid unnecessary casualties. We do not therefore intend to undertake a formal review of Iraqi civilian casualties sustained from 19 March to 1 May.
On 8 March 2005 the
British government, via its Iraq Policy Unit, sent the following email to one of
the authors (Richard Hil) in response to his inquiry about Iraqi civilian
casualties sent several months earlier. The response was less dismissive than
that of the Defence Secretary but nonetheless sought to deny the need for the
government to undertake a body count since the best available source was the
Iraqi health ministry:
you for your e-mail calling for an independent inquiry into Iraqi civilian
casualties ... We agree that
the civilian casualties that have occurred in
asked about the possibility of an assessment by the
regret that accurate civilian casualty figures are not available from the Iraqi
Ministry of Health prior to April 2004 but this does not mean that we do not
value Iraqi lives. Our armed forces, and those of other nations making up the
Multi-National Force (MNF), are risking their lives on a daily basis to help the
Iraqis bring much-deserved security, stability and democracy to their country.
the Prime Minister noted in the House of Commons on 8 December 2004, the
casualties that have occurred since major combat activities ended on 1 May 2003
have occurred as a result of actions by those determined to undermine the political process.
Events of the last few weeks continue to reveal how terrorists are targeting the
very Iraqis who are working hard to build a better future for their country.
Terrorists and insurgents must lay down their weapons, and enable the vitally
important reconstruction and humanitarian work to go ahead. [vii]
The proposition that it is ‘impossible’ for non-Iraqi authorities to come up with any reliable figure of the dead and injured flies in the face of the available evidence presented in the next chapter which suggests that such a figure is indeed possible and has been made so through the enormous efforts of non-government organisations. The somewhat disingenuous nature of the government’s approach to the question of a body count is compounded by its refusal to acknowledge the efforts of those many organisations that have gone to great lengths to come up with estimates of civilian casualties. The idea also that the beleaguered Iraqi health authorities are in the best position to conduct a count appears ludicrous given the fact that the Iraqi health services came in for sustained attack by coalition forces and considerable damage was caused to hospital and other health services.
The process of counting the dead and injured under conditions of acute crisis is far from reliable. The British government’s refusal to establish an independent inquiry into the question of civilian casualties is yet a further rebuttal to those who have called for active measures on the part of the coalition forces to carry out a count. The final part of the email identifies ‘terrorists’ and others as responsible for the mayhem in Iraq but does not acknowledge that the invasion itself and the subsequent occupation have led to considerable social, economic and political instability as well as an increase in the deaths of thousands of civilians.
Stevens 2004: 32
[ii] Pilger 2003
[iii] Sands 2006
[iv] Pilger 2005: 3
[v] Sydney Morning Herald 14 December 2005
[vi] Defence Secretary cited in Iraq Body Count 2005b: 4
[vii] Email from British government, via its Iraq Policy Unit to Richard Hil (2005)
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