Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Iraq/1: Who Counts the Dead?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Iraq/1: Who Counts the Dead?

Article excerpt

I know lots of things. I know that 935 Iranians applied for asylum in Britain in the third quarter of this year and I know that the price of pigs in the UK, France and Germany followed a very similar cyclical pattern throughout the 1990s. I know that there were 134,557 recorded crimes in Sussex in 2003-04 and I know that my son's primary school had an unauthorised absence rate of 1.1 per cent last year. I know these things because the government collects and publishes all these facts and millions more.

I also know that there are 15 officials on the Ministry of Defence press desk in Whitehall. So I called one of them to ask about casualties in Iraq. First, I asked how many British fatalities there were during Operation Telic. The answer is 74. The youngest was 18, the oldest 55. Each one is recorded on the MoD website, which shows photos and biographies and best wishes to the families. The site is decent and dignified, and so it should be.

Next, I asked if the MoD knew how many Iraqi civilians had been killed in the conflict. "No. There is no definitive figure on that."

Roughly how many? "We don't have a figure. The government has not tried to put a figure on it."

A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? "No."

Are you counting? "We haven't tried."

The MoD knows exactly when and where every British soldier died but it cannot estimate the number of dead Iraqi civilians to the nearest ten thousand.

A military source at the MoD told me the army could get at least a rough estimate of casualties from the daily contact reports. He said: "We don't keep a tally because no one really wants to know. Downing Street's worried that a big number could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the war. It's a question of proportionality."

For a war to be "just" and for the use of force to be legitimate, it must be "proportionate" to the expected military advantage. …

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