Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thanks for the liberation

You may recall that at the time of our invasion, administration officials estimated that Saddam Hussein had killed 300,000 people during his 24 years in power -- not counting combat-related deaths from the Iran-Iraq war or other military operations.

That works out to about 12,500 a year. Not a bad clip. But since we toppled him, we've demonstrated that he was a rank amateur.

Nearly 35,000 civilians were killed last year in Iraq, the United Nations said Tuesday, a sharp increase from the numbers reported previously by the Iraqi government.

Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said 34,452 civilians were killed and 36,685 were wounded last year.

The Iraqi government disputes the U.N. figures, claiming the true death toll was 12,357 -- a number that itself is still comfortably close to Saddam's efforts. But there are plenty of reasons to be doubtful of the Iraqi figure, prime among them that the Baghdad morgue alone reported 16,000 unidentified bodies last year, most of which were victims of violence. A Health Ministry official told the Washington Post that the true number of casualties was 23,000. All in all, the U.N. figure seems the most unbiased and reasonable.

We should be careful not to morally equate deliberate executions and massacres under Saddam with the casualties of a multifaceted civil war. And theoretically, the current death rates will hold for only a short period of time, as opposed to ongoing killings under Saddam.

But viewed from the perspective of Iraqis, they have little reason to celebrate our arrival. They're now being killed at two or three times the rate they were before, and the pace has been steadily accelerating, not slowing down.

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